Artist and educator Jeffrey Morin wants to make art school more accessible for future generations.
Q&A with MIAD President Jeffrey Morin, who knows firsthand how hard it can be for first-generation college students to succeed
In the three and a half years since Jeffrey Morin became president of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, the college’s enrollment numbers have risen steadily, even as university enrollment declined nationally. And nearly half of MIAD’s freshman class is made up of first-generation students, like Morin himself, who grew up in a remote Maine town where college is, literally and figuratively, too far away for many residents.
Morin’s parents ran a small gas station near the Canadian border. Morin knew from a young age that he wanted to teach art, and he understood that he’d need to leave his home and enroll in a university to realize that dream.
Today, Morin holds a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and two advanced degrees from UW-Madison. He also maintains an art practice of his own – working on paintings, drawings and art books in addition to overseeing MIAD’s administrative operations. Under his watch, the university has been recognized as a top design school.
We recently sat down with Morin to chat about Milwaukee’s art scene and the value of higher education.
Did your family encourage you to pursue art?
My brother and I were the first members of my immediate family to graduate from high school. And I was the first in my family to go off to college. For a lot of reasons, my parents were not initially supportive of my studies. I think they were afraid that I would become such a different person that I would no longer fit in the family, and they were suspicious of the application process. I received a full, four-year scholarship, and they could not understand why an institution would give someone four years of free tuition – the idea of getting a scholarship was just so foreign to them.
What do you think of the stereotype that art schools are prohibitively expensive?
When I introduce people to MIAD, I assume that that’s their preconceived notion: It’s private, it’s nonprofit, it’s independent, it has a high published tuition. What people don’t realize is that 44 percent of our students are Pell-eligible, which means they come from lower-income backgrounds. So we have a fairly high level of need, and we work very hard to meet that need. About 25 percent of our students are first generation. And this year, 38 percent of the incoming students identify as people of color.
A college education moves one up and out. To me, that’s central to the mission of this school. And when I look at the demographics of the students that we attract, that’s what I think of. We’re one of the top three art schools in the country when it comes to moving graduates from low-income backgrounds to upper-middle-class jobs.
Many Americans worry that automation will eliminate jobs. Do you think that creative careers are more or less robot-proof than most?
The process of making things is being automated. The process of designing things is going to be difficult to automate. So I feel confident that the people we educate here are working in a sector that’s secure.