The Cost of a Writing Education

As a university writing teacher, I really struggle with the cost of writing programs. I ended up $40,000 in debt after my MFA, despite getting a tuition waiver in the second year (when I was working in the Writing Center and as a grad assistant to a lit. class).

I was panicky when I graduated and realized that there was no tenure-track job waiting for me. I’d be lucky if I was hired to teach a few classes at different schools: cash-strapped schools struggling to stay open with slashed education budgets often don’t want to hire you to teach full-time because they’d need to give you benefits.

Freeway flying and teaching freshman composition — that’s the fate of many MFA grads, often for years and years, while they struggle to write a novel that may, perhaps, sell. It’s not like going to med school, where there’s a guaranteed job waiting on the other end if you graduate.

In retrospect, it was probably a huge financial mistake, taking on so much debt for that degree program, but the truth is that most MFA programs don’t offer a lot of funding to their students. Even though I felt like I learned so much in my program, from talented and generous teachers, I hesitate to recommend to my undergrad writers that they go on to an MFA. But they do want more writing instruction — they need it. So what are they to do?

They can try to learn what they need on their own, by reading voraciously and writing as much as they can. That’s essential, of course, but many are looking for more. They can study out of writing books and participate in online writer forums. Those can be great, but they’re generally not very structured, not in the way a good creative writing program can be.

They can attend local writing workshops (some of which can be quite expensive). They can go to conventions, if they can afford to, attend all the writing tracks and, if one is offered, participate in the writing workshop. They can travel, if they can afford it, to one-week or six-week workshops.

There are huge financial barriers & time barriers (many can’t actually leave home for a week or even a long weekend, due to care commitments, health constraints, and/or job requirements).

More and more, it seemed like the SLF should be able to do something about that, should be able to offer some alternatives. And with the internet come new possibilities. Khan Academy is a brilliant model for how open-source free math education can be extended to the entire world. Can we do the same for creative writing?

I think so. In my next posts, I’m going to talk in more detail about a few aspects of how we hope to go about it, with your help.

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The SLF’s October membership drive has started! Check it out: http://speculativeliterature.org/membership/

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