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The coming shake-out in design education

The new Coroflot, launched by Allan Chochinov and his colleagues this week, boasts a staggering 33,000 design portfolios and more than 135,000 registered users. Gross visitor numbers to Coroflot (and its sister site, Core77 ) are many times higher than that. A major attraction is Coroflot’s steady flow of job postings, updated by the minute.
I’m convinced that sites like Core77 are going to have a huge impact on design education, and soon. A fast-growing gulf is opening up between the reputations of many design schools and universities, on the one hand, and the reality of what they are able to deliver to current students on the other.
Many design schools have been compelled by governments to expand student numbers. But they have been given diminishing resources per student to do so. The results of this are now being felt. Jeff Banks, a leading British employer of designers, writes about “design education meltdown” in the August issue of Blueprint. “Employers are asking if the degrees of graduates from design schools are worth the paper they’re printed on”, he writes.
Prospective students that I have met of late also ask whether it is worth going to design school. They know they will leave tens of thousands of dollars or euros in debt – at a time when the prospect of a highly-paid job, to pay it off, is by no means guaranteed.
Some respected universities are offering places to one in every two applicants to design programmes this year. Five years ago, the ratio would have been 1:7. How long before they have empty places? How many already do?
Many big-name schools in the US and Europe are kept afloat financially by the fees of foreign students, particularly at postgraduate level. This cash cow will evaporate fast if the reputations of big-name schools start to deteriorate. International students will not shell out premium fees for a devalued certificate.
Among Core77’s discussions among design students, for example, comments like this are typical: “I am now studying master industrial design at (School X) and I definitely DO NOT RECOMMEND this school. You can ask the other 19 students of industrial master and other 50 students from other masters and they most of them will answer you the same”.
Sites like Core77 enable prospective students to communicate directly with current ones. They compare the reality of life in a school to its reputation, and to the promises made in its marketing. Under-performing colleges – and there are many, including some with inflated reputations – are going to run into trouble. Soon.

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