USC Makes Its Acting And Playwriting MFA Programs Tuition-Free

USC’s School of Dramatic Arts announced Wednesday that its three-year master’s in fine arts programs will now be tuition-free.

Starting with the 2024-25 academic year, incoming graduate students, as well as continuing MFA students studying acting and dramatic writing, will shoulder no tuition cost. The tuition-free initiative was made possible because of the steady support of scholarship donors and the leadership of the school’s board of councilors, an advisory group composed of notable professionals, alumni and community leaders that help stimulate the philanthropy that will continue to expand the school’s endowment, school officials said.

School officials told The Times last week that the tuition-free MFA programs would allow the university to more competitively recruit extraordinarily gifted creatives who bring distinct stories and experiences to stage and screen with no financial barriers.

“If aspiring artists don’t have to be worried about taking on debt, imagine the type of people who might enroll in a program and the kinds of creative choices they can make,” said the school’s dean, Emily Roxworthy. “To think that now that these students can enroll and not have to worry about whether they can afford it or not is pretty incredible.

“We are interested in them as artists — the craft they want to deeply pursue as graduate students, the stories they want to tell, the multi-hyphenate roles they want to take on in the entertainment industry — and we’re just so excited to support them, something we now feel we can do better than ever before.”

USC’s move follows that of the Juilliard School and Yale University, which have also announced tuition-free graduate programs at its drama schools in recent years. Roxworthy said USC’s initiative has been in the works since she was appointed to the position in 2021. These programs will be the first master’s degrees in the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ history to go tuition-free.

As of last year, tuition and fees for USC’s graduate acting and dramatic writing programs were $58,234 per year. The MFA programs currently serve 35 students, with 100% receiving financial assistance through scholarships or grants.

USC made the announcement as Hollywood was still struggling to recover from the financial blows of the pandemic and last year’s actors’ and writers’ strikes. Connie Britton, an actor and member of the USC school’s board of councilors since 2019, hopes it is a gesture of encouragement to future students.

“Education is so expensive, and so many people who are fully deserving and who can tell stories in ways that we need are completely ruled out because of the financial barrier,” she told The Times. “And if you look at our business right now, the creative has become so intermingled with the corporate and the financial, and so there’s this real choke hold on how we tell stories that’s really caught up in commerce.”

A woman smiling

Connie Britton, in 2023, is a member of the School of Dramatic Arts’ board of councilors. (Richard Shotwell / Invision / Associated Press)

“I hope MFA students who have this opportunity see that true creation is fundamentally important, and that stories — especially diverse stories, stories we’ve never heard before and stories we’ve never been allowed to tell — are so much more than just monetary value,” she added. “An MFA program is really about training the people who are going to be the caretakers of our culture for generations to come, and making that education free shows how important this work is and how committed SDA [the School of Dramatic Arts] is to taking that work seriously.”

Read more: ‘Plays still matter to the health of Broadway’: Leslie Odom Jr. on ‘Purlie Victorious’

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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