Students express concerns over ELA costs


The Emerson Los Angeles campus

By Ally Rzesa

Taylor William Weston ’17 used Uber for his hour-long commute between his internship and the Emerson Los Angeles campus.  

“I negotiated in my interview that I would need to be compensated [for transportation] so if that didn’t happen, I would’ve paid hundreds of dollars just to go to work on top of what I was already paying,” Weston said.

Alongside full or part-time tuition, ELA students face steep transportation, food, and external costs. Students are required to participate in a four or eight credit internship, working 16-24 hours or 32-38 hours, often unpaid.

The tuition fees page suggests students rent or bring their own car, and, if they rent a car, they must have auto insurance in California.

The directions page suggests that students who don’t own auto insurance check if their parent’s insurance will cover them, or if their parents may rent them a vehicle. Emerson partners with Enterprise Rent-a-Car to provide students a discount on car rentals. Although the campus is located close to public transportation, Los Angeles is known for terrible traffic and slow or inaccessible public transit.

In a joint interview, Chief Financial Affairs and Operating Officer Joyce Williams said students meet with staff to discuss transportation methods during an orientation in Boston and after they obtain an internship. ELA Vice President and Executive Director Allison Sampson said students with financial need could obtain internships close enough from campus to walk.  

“Everything depends on your internship, where your internship is located,” Sampson said.

Weston said students spent $15 to $20 to eat an average lunch if their internship didn’t provide it.

“I know most of the Emerson student population is pretty wealthy,” Weston said. “But [ELA] is not a program that is setting everyone up for success equally or built for everyone to do so.”

Senior visual and media arts major Ryan DeMusis Leveillee said he disliked how students are required to live on campus unless they have immediate family within the area.

“I’m from Massachusetts. I don’t have any immediate family in Los Angeles,” Leveillee said. “So, I’m forced to live on campus and pay extra money that they won’t provide me on-campus aid for.”

Eric Glaskin, associate director of financial aid, said a student’s financial aid only might change if they take courses that don’t satisfy their degree audit, or don’t go towards their required credits.

“As long as they’re enrolled full time, or part time if they were enrolled part time [in ELA,] they’ll get very similar aid as long as they’re taking the courses towards the program that they need,” Glaskin said.

Glaskin said scholarship options for ELA include the Emerson Enhancement fund and the Kevin Bright scholarship.  

Sydney Nichols ‘09 experienced the ELA program before the program had its new campus, so she commuted from her family’s L.A. home. She said Career Services couldn’t provide her any internships aimed towards writing, literature and publishing majors, so she had to find a publisher on her own.

She said she interned with a small nonprofit called Red Hen Printing Press, where she worked for a year after she graduated.

“Not paying for housing offset some of the cost, and I felt like I received a good experience,” Nichols said.

Sydnie Lopolito ‘15 said she also found it difficult to find a internship in the writing, literature and publishing field. Instead, she was interested to work in publicity and interned for the television network TLC through a paid position.

“I ended up moving back to Boston, but if I hadn’t I probably would have stayed with the company. I liked it a lot,” Lopolito said.

In 2016, at least nine students reported obtaining a job offer from their internship. The program accepts up to 200 students.

The ELA website’s FAQ states that students are not entitled to a job at the conclusion of training, and their reward is academic credit according to California law. It also says there is no better way to receive connections and experience, and an internship could lead to a job.

Weston said he thought the requirements and paperwork Emerson places on internships limit the businesses where students can work. Students must fulfill their hour requirements arranged at the beginning of their internship, varying from 16-24 hours or 32-38 hours for a four or eight credit internship.

“I think the way that the L.A. program is marketed—especially as an admissions perk towards prospective students who are still in high school and their parents, who are from a different generation and don’t understand the job market that we’re subject to struggling through right now—is really unethical,” Weston said.

Weston said he appreciated the opportunity ELA gives students to experience L.A., but he wouldn’t suggest students acquire loans for the program.

“I’m not saying to make tuition free,” Weston said. “I just want to not to have to pay to have to work.”

Correction 4/4/2018: A previous version of this article implied that Lopolito was not satisfied with working in publicity. This has been corrected.