Frustrated with the limited amount of professional development she was receiving as a K-5 art teacher, Jessica Balsley began publishing lesson plans and videos online in 2009 under her blog, “Art of Education.”
Ten years later, Balsley and her husband, Derek, launched Art of Education University in January. The online graduate school for art teachers in Osage is one of only two for-profit universities to open in Iowa in the past nine years, according to Iowa College Aid.
“As far as we know, Art of Education University is the only non-religious graduate university established in Iowa in the last 50 years,” Derek Balsley said in a phone interview.
Balsley said the couple took the step of opening a new graduate school because of three central challenges Jessica was facing as a young art teacher in a large school district.
“The professional development that a school district delivers to its teachers is ‘one size fits all,’” Balsley said. “If there is only one art teacher in any given school, they are not going to build professional development for just that one teacher.
“Another problem was a lack of resources for art teachers. While they might find help to assess 30 students in a class, art teachers could have as many as several hundred students to assess.”
Balsley said his wife also encountered difficulty when she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in elementary art education.
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“Jessica could find a lot of master’s programs for teachers, but not specifically for teaching art,” he said. “There are very few master’s programs for teaching art and they require a lot of travel depending on where you live.”
The current higher education system, Balsley said, is based on providing a variety of educational programs to students in a geographic area, rather than focusing on students in a specific program.
“At Art of Education University, we serve a specific student through lifelong learning over their entire career,” he said. “It goes beyond earning their master’s or doctoral degree in art education.”
The Balsleys initially partnered with other online colleges and universities to offer classes. That allowed them to build up the necessary documentation to get the Art of Education University’s accreditation.
Their university has about 55 instructors, all of whom teach online courses. Eight of the instructors are housed in the school’s Osage office and the remainder are in various locations across the country.
“We have about 150 students, but we expect to have 400 by the end of the year,” Balsley said.
A master’s degree in art education costs $13,314 plus books and materials. Students work as their own pace with online classes, which allows the school to forego the cost and maintenance of brick-and-mortar classroom buildings.
Art of Education University also offers Art Ed Pro, a professional development program specifically for K-12 art teachers. The school also hosts Art Ed Now, a twice-annual online conference for K-12 art teachers that has more than 5,000 attendees.
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Balsley, who previously worked in marketing, said creating a new university from scratch has brought its share of challenges. He will discuss those and other issues when he is interviewed Wednesday at 1 Million Cups.
If You Go
• What: Derek Balsley, co-founder of Art of Education University, Osage, will be interviewed at the Founder Fireside presentation, part of the 1 Million Cups series
• When: Doors open at 8 a.m., with the program to begin at 8:15, Wednesday
• Where: Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Admission is free