Dismantle, Build or Repair? 
Re-thinking our capitalistic education.

During my time at MICA, there was trouble — the school was re-structuring due to enrollment based financial shortages — the enrollment cliff. As a result many faculty & staff members’ jobs were on the line, students were anxious about continuing their education and tension was strife along different groups.

This thesis was developed from this immediate situation while delving into some of the deeper underlying problems often swept under the rug at many art & design universities.
Designer, Researcher, Motion Designer, Facilitator

3 months

An introduction framing the problems explored in this project. Turn up the volume to hear a concise narration!

The issue at hand — the enrollment cliff;

By 2026, the population of “traditional” college-aged students (18-24 year olds) is going to be at a sharp decline (aka the enrollment cliff) — which essentially means that there will be less “traditional” students overall. Many institutions are working to combat this and shifting strategies such as developing short professional courses and online degrees to expand their student-base. 

However, these shifts are affecting students now — pointing to the larger problems of the higher education world, that have remained across decades.

Student, staff and faculty responses

It was imminent that the enrollment cliff was leading to many changes at MICA (and other universities) but the response to these changes told a story that’s age old — lack of transparency, exhausted faculty, anxious students — all of them wanted accountability.

To delve deeper into these responses, I interviewed across different people including student, staff and faculty through different methods;

  • Activity sheets tracing their educational journey to + at MICA
  • Semi-structured 1:1s
  • Informal group discussions
  • Observations

A year ago, MICA staff had voted to unionize
A pamphlet during a student-led protest in response to changes happening at MICA
The chalk protest had different words and phrases of protest drawn on by students
A drawing from the activity sheet I created to talk about education at MICA

Discovering problems and making sense of them

After all my information gathering — I was able to map out everything into:
Stories — Things people mentioned had happened
Observations — Things I observed during my research
Quotes — Direct quotes from people I spoke with, or read about

A full overview of all the data points I collected 
Similar data points were grouped into themes to start to build a high-level summary


Themes are underlying, repeating patterns in research. Through all the data points I collected, these 5 were the most prominent themes I noted;


Connecting themes together — from an inequitable structure, to lack of community and sustained stress from university — I was able to see a larger story unfold. A space of education was seemingly no different than the definitions of capitalism.

This is why the design challenge here became;

How might we dismantle the capitalistic structure of art & design university education?

More questions;

Reversing the insights — I formed open questions that were used to generate ideas on how to tackle the design challenge. The questions had overarching themes of Care, Learning & Decision-Making powers.

Bringing student, faculty and staff voices together

To respond to the questions that came out of research, I hosted a design sprint workshop where we collectively sketched out ideas and shared within the group — then voted on things which stood out the most.

Once someone sketched an idea, they were to share it with the group, which could in turn inspire other ideas
After the sketch session, the group pinned up ideas and started to create categories and vote on ideas that were most feasible and impactful
The final categories and most voted-on ideas

Impact & Next Steps;

The ideas generated during the workshop were presented to the MICA community during the Social Design Exchange — a forum to discuss social-impact work under the MICA Center for Social Design. The presentation was attended by the Dean of Graduate Studies, Vice Provost of Graduate Studies & Vice President of Academic Affairs — who also reached out for the documented publication. Additionally, after the presentation, I hosted a reception to have an open discussion about the project.

This project will be showcased along with a parallel workshop at the AICAD Symposium at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

The work was presented to the MICA community
In discussion with an alum who worked on creating better working environments for staff at MICA in 2022
The reception set up with the ideas created in the workshop on display and the space to add more

©Jigyasa Tuli
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