At Large  September 15, 2021  Art & Object Staff

The 5 Best Art Schools in the Southwest

Created: Wed, 09/15/2021 - 09:10
Author: chandra

In today's world, professionals versed in art and design are in high demand, particularly those who can use their skills in both the fine arts and commercial worlds. Those looking to embark on a career in the arts have a huge range of options for their training and education. In an on-going series, Art & Object delves into the top art schools and programs in the U.S.

Here, we look at the top five schools of the Southwest, which tend to be universities with remarkably robust and high-performing visual and performing arts programs compared to other regions in the U.S. The programs at these institutions often encourage or require some degree of interdisciplinary studying. The resources some of these programs have rival those of the highest-performing dedicated art schools in the nation. This region's listing also features a private, Christian university.

To determine its final rankings, Art & Object's editorial staff weighed the following factors: degree and curriculum variety, quality of school museums, school renown, tuition cost (undergraduate, graduate, etc. if applicable), employment rate, graduation rate, internship opportunities, student body diversity*, surrounding art scene, cultural opportunities, and student statements. While Art & Object has strived to craft a list in the most objective manner possible, we recognize that measures of "best" could include many other factors. With that said, here are the Art & Object selections of the best art schools in the Southwest.

You can find our rankings for the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, and West here.

*Editor's Note: LGBTQ+ individuals may not always be accurately represented in gender data reported by institutions and organizations.
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Baylor University historic campus with statue
5. Baylor University


Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor University’s ​​College of Arts and Sciences is home to the Department of Art and Art History and the Department of Film and Digital Media. The former provides access to nine areas of study including Foundations, Art History, Ceramics, Fabric Design, Graphic Design, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture.

Baylor’s Art History program is robust and places a big emphasis on out-of-classroom education. Their notable alumni work at companies like Walt Disney or are enrolled in top-tier graduate programs. Baylor is the second most expensive school in this top five, with an undergraduate tuition of around $47,364.

At the end of the 2018-19 school year, Baylor’s graduation rate came in at 74 percent. Though the school has not made recent employment data available, Baylor has been open about the targeted steps it has taken over the past decade to improve these numbers and shown evidence of growth. The latest data shows a jump from 66.2 percent for the class of 2012 to 86.5 percent for the class of 2016.

Baylor does record and share statistics related to its student body diversity. The most recent numbers available show that 60 percent of students are female and 62 percent are white.

The University is moderately sized with around 14,000 undergraduate students. As a private, Christian school, Baylor offers a specific type of environment that many seek out but may not be appealing to others.

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University of Texas Dallas reflecting pool surrounded by magnolias
4. The University of Texas at Dallas


The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) is home to a uniquely structured Visual and Performing Arts Program. Because those in pursuit of a fine arts education are in close proximity to others studying music, theater, and communications; students are encouraged to take advantage of this setup and interdisciplinary options are abundant.

For example, students pursuing a Technology and Emerging Communication BA within UTD’s School of Arts may choose to add a concentration in Animation, Critical Media Studies, Design & Production, or Games after one year of general education.

For undergraduate students, in-state tuition is currently $7,282 while out-of-state tuition is $19,888. For graduate students, in-state tuition is $9,061 and out-of-state is $18,072. Though already the most affordable school of this top five, UTD also reports that 64 percent of graduating seniors have no student debt.

UTD is moderately sized for this list, with just over 28,000 students. At the end of the 2018–19 school year, UTD’s graduation rate was 70.6 percent for first-time, full-time undergraduates. Compared to the other schools featured, this percentage is moderate.

Although UTD does not make statistical data on the student body’s diversity easily available to the public, it does appear to have a deeply active Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Notable alumni include Kouznetsova, founder of ArtMail, a subscription art service she founded just a few months after graduating. And, of course, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is filled with centers of art such as the Dallas Museum of Art.

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Rice University campus
3. Rice University


Rice University, a small Houston school, has a relatively robust Visual and Dramatic Arts (VADA) program. Through this program, fine-arts-minded undergraduates may pursue BAs with a concentration in either Film and Photography, Theater, or Studio Art. For those who choose the later concentration, in-depth training across five different mediums is available. All VADA majors are required to participate in a junior year seminar and field trip—which may be national or international—designed to prepare students for professional life.

Although Rice has no higher degree tracks within the VADA program, the school does have distinguished Art History and Architecture departments where students may pursue a minor, BA, MA, or PhD.

With under 4,000 students, Rice is by far the smallest school on this list and, with a tuition of $49,112, it is also the most expensive school. Rice University, according to data from the 2018-19 school year, has the highest overall graduation rate of this list, coming in at 93 percent for full-time, first-time students. In an effort to show commitment to diversity, Rice offers a certificate in civic leadership and multiple experiential learning courses related to the topic.

This Houston school's campus is divided into eleven residential colleges. Each has its own dining halls, public rooms, and dorms. The University has just announced the opening of a twelfth residential college and plans to expand its student body to about 9,000 by the beginning of the 2025-26 academic year.

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Photo: Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons
Pratt Institute, Higgins Hall
2. The University of Texas at Austin


The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is home to three departments that offer art-related programs—the Department of Art and Art History, the School of Design and Creative Technologies, and the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship.

The Department of Art and Art History also offers courses on and degrees in Art Education. Within the Studio program, training is offered across five broad areas of interest rather than specific, singular mediums.

UT Austin is the largest school of this top five with 40,804 undergraduates and 11,028 graduates as of 2018. Though moderately affordable for in-state students with a tuition of $11,630, it is one of the most expensive for out-of-state students with tuition over $41,000.

Based on the most recent data available, UT Austin’s graduation rate (first-time, full-time students) is about 80.8 percent. As for employment, about 75 percent of graduates are employed full time and 38 percent of students report having a job lined up before graduation.

According to the University, students engaged in the UTeach Fine Arts Program who wish to teach art in public, Texas schools, “have virtually 100 percent job placement.” UT Austin has fifteen distinct career centers including one that is entirely dedicated to Fine Arts students.

The student body at UT Austin is 54.4 percent female, 38.9 percent white, and 10 percent international. Although some of the other schools listed do not report or share such numbers, UT Austin is the most diverse of the schools that do.

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Arizona State University campus with sculptures
1. Arizona State University


Arizona State University (ASU), located in Tempe, is home to several top-tier arts programs all under the domain of the University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Through Herberger, ASU offers fifty-two undergraduate degrees, forty-seven graduate degrees, and nineteen minor and certificate programs.

The school clearly offers a wide range of modern and traditional training and specialization in the arts. Uniquely, ASU graduate students may participate in the ASU-LACMA Master’s Fellowship in Art History and Herberger has its own career services.

Currently, in-state tuition is about $11,338 while out-of-state tuition is $29,428. ASU is the second most affordable school of this top five for in-state students.

An impressive 92 percent of ASU undergraduate students received some level of financial assistance in fall 2019 and 34 percent of undergraduates received Pell Grants.

At the end of the 2018–19 school year, ASU’s graduation rate was 67.1 percent for first-time, full-time undergraduates. The year after, 83 percent of undergraduates and 87 percent of graduate students looking for work found it within six months of graduation. Although the University’s graduation rate is low for this list, its employment rate is, by far, the highest of this top five.

In terms of diversity, ASU seems to be average for this top five. 23 percent of ASU’s undergraduate student body are first-generation college students and, interestingly, the University records and shares diversity info on students, faculty, and employees.

ASU’s art programs take advantage of the resources afforded to a large university in a remarkable and innovative manner. The Herberger Institute has multiple fascinating research programs and initiatives in place including the Windgate Contemporary Craft initiative and the Ceramics Research Archive.

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