"A few years ago, we offered a continuing studies certificate program in business planning through the University of Baltimore, but we found it wasn't adequate," Lazarus said. "The students told us that they wanted more business training. They wanted to go more in-depth. So we began to discuss adding new programs and partnering with Hopkins."

Both Barrett and Lazarus say that adding the new degree programs isn't a last-ditch effort to boost attendance. MICA's enrollment has grown from 1,200 students a decade ago to 2,106 this fall.

"This isn't a desperation move at all," Barrett said. "The schools that are starting these programs aren't the ones with enrollment problems."

But MICA's board of trustees has been concerned that the share of graduate admissions — currently 15 percent of the total student body — is too low, especially when compared to similar arts colleges.

So the school began planning to increase and broaden graduate offerings. And last summer, it secured the funding necessary to support them.

In July, officials announced they would receive a $10 million donation from former trustee George L. Bunting Jr. and his wife, Anne, to expand graduate enrollment. It was the largest gift in the school's history.

Just this fall, the number of graduate students at MICA jumped from 100 to 306. By the end of the decade, officials expect graduate enrollment to increase to about 500 — or about 20 percent of the student body.

Despite the influx of students who are more comfortable designing computer software than couture, Lazarus insists that MICA isn't competing with Hopkins or the University of Maryland. And he notes that the other three new master's programs introduced this fall — in curating, illustration and community arts — are based in the arts.

"They all have design as their core," he said.

Still, some on campus told Lazarus that they feared MICA is broadening its horizons so much that it was losing its focus on the fine arts. Others were concerned that the student sculptors and painters, who so often feel marginalized in the wider world, would begin to feel out of place in their own school.

"MICA has always had a strong reputation built around traditional art-making. I had wondered, at first, if the addition of these new programs would dilute that reputation and possibly cause fragmentation within our institutional community," said Theresa Bedoya, the college's vice president of admission and financial aid.

"But what I have found is that MICA students continue to be united by the fact that they are art-centered, even as we reimagine the possibilities of art and design education."

Lazarus says MICA will never abandon its commitment to teaching the fundamentals of art. But he has come to believe that what the school has always done best is help students — a range of students — learn to imaginatively solve problems.

"We're become increasingly aware that artists are creative thinkers," he says. "And they may want to do things that go well beyond painting and sculpture.

"There's a lot of interest in the art world today about using the arts to address social issues and real-world problems. It's not surprising we're moving in this direction."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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