Hello everyone. This is my first post as a contributor to the MFA blog. Thank you for having me.
Yesterday I sat down to have a coffee discussion with a number of curious college seniors, mostly English majors or members of the liberal arts college at Oregon State University. The topic of discussion was the future of MFA programs in the United States with the current funding crisis in higher education. I noticed that many of these MFA hopefuls were asking some of the same questions that I see on this blog. Where is the funding? Does it still exist? Who in their right mind would provide financial support for a workshop degree? etc, etc.
My response then was the same as it is now: financial support exists for those who are willing to spend the time and make the effort to find it. This is not to say that I advocate seeing funding as the highest priority to consider when selecting programs, but it certainly should be toward the top. The truth is (and the numbers are out there...see the NEA's figures for higher education budget crises) many students are finding themselves as candidates in an MFA program at an institution not renowned for its dedication to the arts, but rather to sciences, mathematics, engineering etc (OSU, for example).
Yet, the funding still exists! What applicants should recognize is that certain MFA programs can ride the popularity of their institution's other programs to be able to afford tuition assistance and other forms of funding for incoming MFA students.
Things to consider could include the following: Is a program located at an institution that is well-known, but not necessarily for arts? Does the program website provide examples of tuition assistance? What is required to apply for things such as assistantships, fellowships, etc?
You may find that certain universities with enrollment figures that are increasing are more willing to provide teaching fellowships to arts programs such as an MFA program simply because more new freshman means the institution needs more graduate teaching assistants to be composition instructors.
There is STILL hope for being funded, after all. Just keep up the search.