KCAD downsizing degree programs, cutting staff


The most significant enrollment drop at Kendall has been in the art education program, which has seen a 62% decline in the past five years. Courtesy Kendall College of Art and Design

Citing decreased enrollment, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University is cutting and consolidating some undergrad degree programs and cutting staff members.

KCAD’s overall enrollment has dropped in the past five years from around 1,400 students to 823, according to Craig Clark, KCAD spokesperson. Art and design schools around the country have been reporting similar declines over the past several years.

After months of review, discussions with students and recognition of the current market, KCAD said it will adjust its degree programs over the next two years in an effort to better prepare students with in-demand job skills of the 21st century.

“These downward trends, as well as heavy competition, have had a significant impact on the resources and support at KCAD, and the institution must respond to that data,” KCAD said.

The most significant enrollment drop has been in the art education program, which has seen a 62% decline in the past five years.

KCAD plans to suspend enrollment in art education program and conclude operations no later than spring 2022. The program’s enrolled 18 undergraduate students all will be mapped through the program to complete their degrees. The two art education faculty positions will be eliminated as the students complete their degrees.

Clark said 92% of KCAD’s students are enrolled in design and commercial art disciplines, such as digital art and design, graphic design and interior design, as well as commercially focused art programs, such as illustration and photography.

The other 8% are enrolled in fine art programs.

The existing undergrad industrial design, furniture design, and metals and jewelry design programs will be integrated into one product design program. This initiative builds operational efficiencies and enhances the quality of the education, KCAD said. The move is meant to provide improved career options and demonstrate to prospective students the aesthetic, conceptual and process adjacencies within these disciplines.

KCAD is seeking program accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art & Design and anticipates approval in spring 2020 with plans to enroll students in the consolidated program beginning in fall 2020.

KCAD said its design disciplines are bachelor of fine arts degrees, which include a foundation in the fine arts, meant to produce better-equipped designers.

KCAD also plans to combine the undergrad fine arts programs — photography, drawing, sculpture and functional art, printmaking and painting — into a new single degree program. Administration, faculty and staff are working to evaluate that change with no set timeline yet.

As these adjustments to degree programming were evaluated, overall college staffing levels also were reviewed. It was determined the college has a heavy ratio of administrative support and director-level positions compared to faculty positions. In response, KCAD is eliminating four staff positions: administrative assistant to the dean of academic affairs, director of the graduate architecture program, director of international recruitment and the chief communications officer.

“These difficult decisions will allow the college to build on its strengths and leverage existing resources while continuing to deliver a unique education in the design and fine arts disciplines KCAD is known for,” KCAD interim President Tara McCrackin said. “Our goal has always been to best prepare students with 21st-century skills that are in demand.”

McCrackin took the interim role in July 2019 after Leslie Bellavance ended her four-year tenure as KCAD president. 

KCAD was born in 1928 as a provision of Helen Kendall’s will, honoring her late husband David Kendall, who came to Grand Rapids in 1879 to work for Phoenix Furniture Company. Furniture design was one of the first three areas of courses offered when the school opened its doors to 43 students on March 16, 1931.

KCAD moved into its existing facility, at 17 Fountain St. NW in downtown Grand Rapids, in 1998. The school merged with FSU in 2000 and merged with Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in 2013.

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