Fashion education was integrated more deeply into the academy in the mid-1990s. Students of fashion were able to receive more than just vocational training. Students who studied fashion design or fashion marketing were now able to combine their studies with traditional business or liberal arts educations, resulting in a bachelor’s degree or baccalaureate. This formalized fashion as a career and academic pursuit. With the rapid growth of fashion content, particularly with Project Runway and blogs, and then smartphones and social media, universities and colleges quickly realized the potential profit of offering fashion degrees programs.

To transform a fashion education into a liberal arts environment, students must take courses that are not in fashion to be eligible for accreditation. This allows for a more comprehensive education but leaves less time to devote to fashion-related subjects or skills training. Bachelor-level students will have to take a number of foundational courses and possibly an elective. They won’t be able to do deep diving or gain expert knowledge in any particular area. The aim is to provide a foundation of knowledge, and the ability for critical thinking-the hallmarks a liberal arts education – on which students can build upon once they are in the workforce. This approach is definitely valuable, but it also creates a huge gap between the actual knowledge and skills that students graduate with and what employers require.

woman in white and black dress illustration

Furthermore, fashion programs are not equipped to teach students in emerging fields as the industry grows more globalized and corporatized. Fashion students are losing out to key jobs opportunities due to non-fashion graduates. This is a result of a growing focus on finance, tech, and operations, as a recent CFDA report highlighted. Schools have attempted to adapt their programs to reflect this shift. Fashion design students can now choose to take business courses, such as e-commerce and brand building. These are both very important skills in a direct-to consumer world. Accredited education requires that you also add something.

A significant increase in tuition has also been associated with the integration of fashion into formal academic systems. A degree in fashion is more expensive than ever. Tuition at top schools such as Parsons School of Design in New York City can reach close to 52,000 dollars per year. This is significant considering that an average New York City graduate will start their career earning approximately 32,000 dollars. They are competing with over 2,200 fashion designers in a market where many jobs are being outsourced and technology. Fashionista reports that there are only 23,100 designers working in America. Simply put, a shortage of jobs and a high number of job seekers are keeping wages low, leaving students jobless, and in debt.

These issues have prompted a rebalancing of fashion education to better meet the needs of the industry. There has been an explosion of online educational start-ups that offer flexible, affordable, and accessible learning options. They don’t offer degrees or certification, but they are changing the way that fashion education is presented in an ever-changing industry.

Our next episode will be about fashion education faculty. They are working hard to establish their academic credibility and create a system that supports future fashion scholars. However, they must also be aware of their role in teaching students in an ever-changing industry. Many faculty have left behind.

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