This camp of people have usually received their MFA and have personal testimony about how valuable that time was for them. Not only to have a space of their own, but to have mentors and peers that helped them grow. The point was not to get a job, but to learn. (But having an advanced degree can only help job prospects in the future).
Opponents of the MFA degree demonstrate that it is not a professional degree. There are no fixed standards or skills that can be learned. No testing or compliance can give any real meaning to the degree. Further, because graduates are left with a huge debt and no prospects to get well paying job, it is almost a crime to keep taking money from these students. The only job an MFA seems to prepare for is teaching, but that market is so over-saturated it has stopped being a viable job possibility for most.
Others fall in the middle, recognizing the value of this time, but also recognizing the realities of life after graduation, namely the detriment of debt. The idea is to offer a similar workspace/mentor situation, but without the degree and without the debt.
WHAT IS BEING LEFT OUT
All the viewpoints above make good arguments. In fact, the issue is more complex than stated here and I don’t want to take any sides. However, there is something in all these arguments that bother me.
The artworld (and many schools) act ashamed of people who get an MFA and then go on to other creative careers outside of studio art. This large group of people don’t even seem to factor into the arguements above. Even in school, students are told that "95% of people will eventually quit." Calling this career-change "quitting" is hurting schools and the artworld.
An education is a fertile foundation for an unknown future. Every liberal arts degree has graduates that go on to diverse and unexpected career paths. (That flexibility/adaptability is the virtue of the degree)! Many MFA’s end up in other fields like entertainment, technology, film, industrial design, etc … all important fields that shape the experience of our everyday lives. These people (like myself) are proud of their MFA education, and make good money. And yet these people are too often referred to as "quitters." Why?
So, as this conversation continues about the MFA degree, I hope that the 95% of people that grow into other creative jobs are considered among MFA successes, not failures. Art Schools and the artworld have everything to gain by "owning" these accomplishments, and nothing to lose.