It seems like an abstract subject to study, and perhaps it is, but its intangibility hasn’t stopped a few colleges from launching degree programs in the field of creativity.
It’s a relatively new academic field, said Elden Golden, principal instructor in the creativity studies program at Union Institute and University. The study of creativity is largely interdisciplinary, but has dominant ties to psychology, education, business, and philosophy.
Few universities in the U.S. or worldwide offer coursework and degree programs in the study of creativity. Students in the various programs take coursework in creativity throughout history; how creativity develops over one’s life; creativity in the workplace; creative problem solving; current trends in creativity; and teaching creativity.
At Union, a tiny, private, not-for-profit institution based in Cincinnati, creativity studies is offered as a concentration in its online Master of Arts program. At Drexel University Online, the online branch of the Philadelphia-based private university, students can earn a Master of Science in Creativity and Innovation or a graduate certificate in creativity studies, both under the umbrella of business offerings. Through the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University of New York, students can earn a Master of Science in Creative Studies, a graduate certificate in creative studies, or undergraduate minors in creative studies or leadership. Both graduate programs are available online; the undergraduate minors are offered only on campus.
At Buffalo State, the study of creativity is not as new – the center was founded in 1967, and is known as the premier center for the study of creativity – but it still eludes the understanding of many people, said Cyndi Burnett, assistant professor and director of distance education programs for the creativity center.
”I’m asked all the time, ‘What do you do in creative thinking? Is it just arts and crafts?’” she said with a laugh. “I always tell them, it’s whatever they want it to be. If you want to be a better teacher, a better artist, a better business person, a better parent—if you want to be a better person, this program is for you.”
The concept of creativity in professional life has been gaining traction in recent years. A survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and 33 industries, conducted by IBM in 2010, found that creativity is seen as the most important quality employees can have to “successfully navigate an increasing complex world.” Creativity beat out rigor, management discipline, integrity, and vision.
Perhaps that is why creativity students come from all around the world and from all walks of life, drawn to the somewhat self-designed nature of the field. They are artists seeking to understand and enhance their own creativity; teachers hoping to make their classrooms more creative; marketing professionals and managers needing to inject more creative thinking and problem-solving into their businesses.
Burnett’s students include an engineer for Disney, a patent attorney, and an executive for Rubbermaid. Thesis topics in Union’s program discuss how to make classrooms more creative; creativity and spirituality; madness and creativity; creativity in children’s grief counseling; and ways of creative marketing in farmer’s markets.
For the creativity programs, diversity and interdisciplinary coursework can be a blessing and a curse.
”Its interdisciplinary nature is one of its major strengths, but also a hurdle,” said Golden, whose educational background is in humanities and music. “Where does it fit in at the university? And if anthropologists and businessmen both are studying this together, they come from different methodologies and have different terminology. How do they relate to one another? The emerging field of creativity is only just now grappling with these issues.”
Another issue that comes up is reaching out to potential students. Neither program does any marketing whatsoever. Most students find out about the Buffalo State program, Burnett said, through word of mouth or “through some serendipitous means.” Buffalo State’s online program doubled its class size three years ago because of the number of quality applicants, she said, and now accepts 24 students each year.
At Union, despite seeing considerable growth in enrollment in its creativity studies program, marketing and recruitment remain an issue, Golden said.
”If you want to attract students for a MA in English, you go to undergraduate English programs to recruit,” he said. “But there are no undergraduate creativity programs to target. How do you find those people, especially given all the people who could be interested in studying creativity?”
Though most of the students in both programs are already in the career they plan to stay in – in Buffalo State’s online programs, applicants must have at least five years of professional experience; many have more – many end up making major life changes upon graduation, Burnett said.
”I tell students, prepare for a major change in your life,” Burnett, a stage actress-turned-educator said. “The world is really your place to create whatever you want for yourself. Start your own company. Move. Switch directions. I’d say 90% of the time, students realize they want something different in their lives, but never knew how to create it until this program.”
Carolynn Carson is in her last semester in the creativity studies program at Union, and is working on her thesis on paradigms related to human development. Carson’s professional background is in psychology, and she worked at Duke University as a research coordinator in psychiatry for several years before retiring in December.
Carson has been interested in creativity since she was 11 years old, she said, and she never knew she would be able to study it in school. While she searched for an online master’s degree program in psychology, she stumbled across the Union program and decided it would be the perfect way to develop and enhance her personal and professional interests. Now, she doesn’t plan to stay retired for long.
”This program was everything I hoped for,” she said. “As a creative person, I really wanted kind of a blank canvas situation, a way to be more creative… I’m waiting for my next step. I’m not sure what it is, but now I’m getting a second wind.”
Follow Anna Schumann on Twitter at @ASchumannCMN.