AWP Releases Its 2015 Survey of Creative Writing Programs

March 25, 2016

Summarizing responses to AWP’s 2014–15 survey from 515 administrators at both undergraduate and graduate programs of creative writing, this report reflects the continued growth and evolution of programs, which now feature characteristics and tracks that were nonexistent or rare in the early development of creative writing as an academic discipline. AWP’s online Guide to Writing Programs catalogs 972 programs. Only 13 programs (most of them newly established) comprised AWP when our association began operations in 1967. As the programs grew in number, curriculum and areas of specialization became more various. Today, both faculty and students work in a wider range of literary genres, and more types of classes complement creative writing workshops and seminars in literature. The student population has also grown more diverse. Most residential graduate programs have now operated for more than twenty years, and the typical low-residency graduate program has operated for more than ten years.


Growth. The most robust growth in programs was reported among the undergraduate programs. Over the past five years, AA programs grew from 0.4 students to 13.5, BA from 12.3 to 22.0, and BFA from 20.0 to 30.0. Growth at the graduate level was modest in comparison to undergraduate programs. Full-residency MFA programs grew from 26.3 to 29.0 total enrolled students, low-residency MFA from 22.0 to 28.5, and PhD from 17.8 to 19.5. Only MA programs grew smaller, from 16.0 students to 11.5.

Enrollments. By program type, BFA, AA, and BA programs are most likely to report a net increase in total student enrollment over the previous year, as a net of 35%, 31%, and 30% in each category of these programs report a substantial or slight increase. 30% of full-residency MFA programs noted slight or substantial increases in enrollment, while 28% of them noted slight or substantial decreases in enrollment. A larger percentage of low-residency programs, 46%, reported slight or substantial increases in enrollment, while 34% reported slight or substantial declines in enrollment.

Applications & Selectivity. Regarding the number of applications received from prospective students, each category of programs had more programs that reported gains than those that reported declines. The largest margins between programs reporting gains and those reporting losses are as follows: BFA (+39%), PhD (+35%), and AA programs (+33%). They are also up for BA (+27%) and full-residency MFA programs (+17%), and they are up slightly for MA and low-residency MFA programs. Selectivity has risen most for PhD (+38%), MFA low- (+33%) and full-residency programs (+34%). It has risen slightly for AA (+10%), BA (+9%), and BFA programs (13%) and declined for MA programs (-11%).

Student Demographics by Race. Across all types of creative writing programs, the proportion of white students is a mean of 75% overall, with an average of 9.2% black non-Hispanic, 6.3% Hispanic, 4.1% Asian, 0.5% American Indian/Alaskan Native/Pacific Islander, and 4.5% mixed-race.

Minority Student Recruitment. The majority of full-residency MFA programs (67%) use fellowships for minority recruitment along with tuition waivers (57%) and stipends (52%). 30% use additional teaching assistantships, and 28% use incentives from the dean’s office.

Median Age. Among full-residency MFA students 27.3 is the median age, 35.4 for low-residency MFA students, and 30.0 for PhD students.

Graduate Student Assistantships. The mean among full-residency MFA programs indicates that 16.7 of enrolled students were awarded teaching assistantships. Since full-residency programs have a mean of 31 enrolled students, slightly more than half of the students enrolled in the average full-residency program receive teaching assistantships, while another two to three students receive research assistantships. For MFA and PhD programs, the budget of graduate assistantships increased among more programs of each type than those that suffered budget cuts. 42% of full-residency MFA programs report slight or substantial increases in their budgets for assistantships. 18% of low-residency MFA programs and 50% of PhD programs also report increases in their assistantship budgets. Decreases in assistantship budgets were reported at 15% of full-residency MFA programs, 3% of low-residency MFA programs, and 27% of PhD programs.


Tenured Positions. At public colleges and universities, across all levels of higher education, programs saw a decline in tenured and tenure-track faculty from 6.1 faculty members five years ago to 5.2 at the time of this survey. At private institutions, program tenure-track faculty grew from 3.8 five years ago to 4.6. For residential MFA programs, the numbers of tenured faculty held relatively steady, from 5.9 five years ago to 6.0 currently. The majority of graduate programs report no change in number of current tenured faculty compared to the previous year.

Career Credentials. 67% of residential MFA programs have no preference between faculty with MFAs and faculty with PhDs (as the record of publication is the most important credential). 67% of PhD programs strongly prefer faculty with PhDs rather than MFAs. 27% of full-residency MFA programs prefer their faculty to hold the MFA, and the largest portion of their faculty hold the MFA: 3.5 among their 6.6 tenure-track faculty members, while 1.3 hold the PhD but no MFA, 0.9 have both PhD and MFA degrees, and another 0.9 hold an MA. AA programs express a slight net preference for PhDs while BA and MA programs express a stronger net preference for PhDs, and BFA programs express a slight net preference for MFAs.

Faculty Work Load. Tenure-track creative writing faculty annually teach, in AA programs, 2.5 writing classes and 4.0 other courses; in BFA programs, 4.0 and 2.9; in residential MFA programs, 3.2 and 0.9; in low-residency programs, 3.0 and 1.7; and in PhD programs, 2.4 and 1.8. At the graduate level, in addition to teaching, a faculty member typically serves as an advisor to 3 to 4 theses.


Workshop Class Size. The average class size varied by program type: 14.5 students for AA programs; 14.6 BA; 13.5 BFA; 11.5 MA; 10.2 full-residency MFA; 6.5 low-residency MFA; and 9.5 PhD.

New Areas of Specialization. Programs show greater diversity in genres taught. Screenwriting, playwriting, hybrid forms, digital or graphic narrative, writing for young adults, and children’s books have joined poetry, fiction, and nonfiction as areas of specialization.

Trends. The survey indicates greater variety in the courses offered by the creative writing program. Programs now are more likely to complement writing workshops and courses in literature with these courses: literary editing (27%) and publishing (25%) were most common, followed by pedagogy or the teaching of creative writing (15%) and graphic and digital storytelling (12%), and literary citizenship (6%).

Professional Development for Students. A majority of graduate programs offer their students coursework in academic job searches, vita preparation, pedagogy, publication, editing and non-academic careers: 69% of full-residency MFA programs and 79% of low-residency MFA programs.


More Program Autonomy. More MFA programs have greater autonomy. In the 1990s, almost all MFA programs operated as part of an English department. Now, 8% of MFA programs operate as stand-alone units that report to a college, while 12% operate in another setting outside the English department. 10% of PhD programs operate in another setting as well.

Program Directors. The typical program director is a faculty member who receives a reduction in annual course teaching load of 1 to 2 courses per year as well as extra compensation. The graduate program director has served 5 to 6 years in the role. He or she is a faculty member in 96% of the programs. Full-residency MFA programs pay the program director an additional $2,367.

Tuition. The majority of graduate programs reported slight increases in tuition compared to the previous year: 67% of residential MFA programs and PhD programs and 74% of low-residency programs. The majority of undergraduate programs reported slight increases as well: AA 63%, BA 76%, and BFA 68%. The total cost of degree (tuition and fees) was reported as $20,180 for full-residency MFA programs and $31,184 for low-residency programs.

Program Finances. Low-residency programs were most likely to see slight increases in their budgets. The following portions of programs reported such increases: AA 24%, BA 16%, BFA 24%, MA 24%, full-residency MFA 25%, low-residency MFA 41%, and PhD 20%.

Faculty Salaries. Responses to our requests for specific financial data in key areas were too few for us to report representative data. Program directors, generally, did not show familiarity with their programs’ annual operating budgets, salaries of their creative writing faculty, or the size of endowments that serve the creative writing program only. As a result, our data sets in these particular areas are problematic. Open-ended comments suggest that budgetary matters are mainly the purview of the Department Chair and not the Program Director.

Response Rate. The general response of 515 administrators provided a representative sample for each type of program. More than half of all of AWP’s MFA, BFA, and AA programs responded to the survey. Please see the table of detailed findings for the breakout of response rates on page 72. Please also see our website’s Guide to Writing Programs for more detailed information on our programs.

Future AWP Surveys. AWP has committed to a rotation of annual surveys. In the fall of 2016, we will survey students and alumni of creative writing programs; in 2017, faculty; in 2018, individual members of AWP; in 2019, graduate programs; and in 2020, undergraduate programs.

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