Arts

Juilliard’s Top-Tier Graduate Acting Program Is Going Tuition-Free

The Juilliard School, one of the world’s most elite conservatories, is making its top-notch graduate acting program tuition-free.

School officials said they hoped that the move would make the drama division accessible to a broader array of students, and that it would make it easier for graduates to pursue careers in the arts because they will have less debt.

“There’s a mythology around a place with a name like Juilliard, and I know too many people who didn’t apply because they thought, ‘I couldn’t afford it,’” said Damian Woetzel, the school’s president. “We recognize that talent is so much greater than opportunity.”

Juilliard’s drama division, in which undergraduate and graduate acting students train together, was (once again) declared the best in the nation by The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year. The school’s alumni have included Robin Williams, Jessica Chastain, Adam Driver and Viola Davis.

The acting program’s Master of Fine Arts track, established in 2012, is relatively new; previously, postgraduate acting students received a credential called simply a diploma. The master’s degree program, which currently has 35 students, is a four-year program — one year longer than most — and the fourth year has always been tuition-free to keep Juilliard competitive with three-year programs elsewhere.

Juilliard’s tuition, for both undergraduates and graduates, is $53,300 per year. About 90 percent of undergraduate students receive some financial aid.

“The expense of being educated these days is an unrealistic burden, particularly for young artists,” the actress Laura Linney, who is a Juilliard alumna and the vice chairwoman of the school’s board of trustees, said in an interview. “Members of my class were paying debt into their 40s. That doesn’t encourage young people to go into the arts.”

Tuition for all graduate acting students will be free starting with the next academic year. To eliminate tuition, the school said it had raised $15 million, with key gifts from the commercial theater producers Stephanie P. McClelland and John Gore.

McClelland, a Juilliard trustee, has been credited as a producer on 87 Broadway shows over the last two decades; she donated with her husband, Carter McClelland, a longtime Wall Street executive. Gore is a British producer whose many ventures include the touring behemoth Broadway Across America and the website Broadway.com. Other gifts, and existing scholarship funds, were combined to permanently replace tuition revenue.

“Many of our M.F.A. students come in with significant undergraduate debt, and some have maxed out the federal loans they can take,” said Evan Yionoulis, the dean of Juilliard’s drama division. This will “allow them to be here without that financial weight on their shoulders, and allow them the freedom, when they graduate, to make choices to build their craft and to have the patience it takes to build their career.”

Juilliard’s move comes two years after Yale University made its drama school, which is also top-ranked and is larger than Juilliard’s, tuition-free with a $150 million gift from David Geffen. James Bundy, the dean of what is now called the David Geffen School of Drama, said the waiving of tuition had already had a significant impact at Yale.

“We’ve seen a rise in applications — we’ve had the two highest years in the school’s history, which tells me that a great many more people saw the school as financially accessible,” Bundy said. “We’ve had a substantial increase in the portion of the applicant pool that identified as Black, Indigenous, or people of color. And taking tuition out of the equation has enabled us to increase stipends for living expenses for students with need, which has the long-term impact of driving down indebtedness.”

Juilliard already has several other tuition-free programs, including the drama division’s two-year playwriting program, which currently has eight students, as well as several specialized music programs. Once the graduate acting program goes tuition-free, 26 percent of all Juilliard students will pay no tuition to attend.

But many music and dance students, as well as drama undergraduates, will continue to have some tuition obligations; the graduate acting program is going tuition-free now because there were donors who stepped forward to make that possible.

“My aim is to make the school tuition-free — the ultimate artistic education deserves that access,” Woetzel said. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

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