The Economics of Making a Small School Big

They say “you can make a big school small, but you can’t make a small school big”. At Wash U, you can have both. One of the benefits of going to Wash U is that because there are several schools in which you can major, Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Art, there is so much opportunity to expand learning outside of the school of your chosen focus.

For art students, it’s not even possible to graduate without taking classes outside of Sam Fox. To fulfill Sam Fox requirements for numeracy I took stats, for humanities I took writing classes,  and currently, I’m taking economics to fulfill a social science requirement.

As you might imagine, taking econ as an art student is a completely different course experience! Starting with the actual structure of the class, in art studio we are constantly learning as we create. It’s a relentless push and pull to keep learning about ourselves and creating from it. We get individualized attention, we are addressed at least once a day about how we are progressing. By contrast, economics is a large lecture class in which we sit anonymously with a lecture hall full of students, listen to lectures, retain that information, take a quiz, a midterm, then a final.

Though just because econ lecture is anonymous, it does not mean we are left to fend for ourselves. The professor periodically asks questions addressed to the students to which anyone can respond, a raised hand is answered immediately, and general inquiries about how we are doing are provided throughout the class. I find that if the class is struggling with a concept, the instruction will slow down to solidify it. If time in class is not enough, there are office hours during the week with the professor and two TA’s. I take good advantage of office hours. In classes like this it’s clear that if you care about learning, you will be taught.

Aside from the facts of the classroom being different, the content is a change as well. As we learned about costs versus, benefits and supply versus demand, I found a lot of the thoughts I already had when making decisions, such as how I decide the classes I take or which sketchbook I’m going to get at Blick, being defined and clarified. Not only this, I am finding increased understanding for the decisions being made in all kinds of contexts around me. Understanding and interpreting the world is an important part of the art-making process, otherwise the artist is limited to the tools of meta-art and aesthetics. Economics is about making decisions within the boundaries of scarcity and art is about pushing such limits. These paradigms can work in harmony with each other.

As art students it is expected that we are “all feeling” and that our analytical “left-brain” is engaged only on rare occasions when we designing on the “grid”. At Wash U, this is hardly the case. Sam Fox students select Wash U because they want to engage with learning outside of focused art courses. They enjoy exploring languages, mathematics, science, philosophy, and anything else they can get there hands on. Sam Fox students not only love to create—they love to learn, period. Being part of a smaller art school community within a larger university accomplishes this, it truly does make a small school big.