ITP chair Dan O'Sullivan believes the high tuition, though understandably problematic for some, can act as that catalyst. There are cheaper options for tech-savvy students: Hackerspaces, co-working spaces, TED Talks,, and General Assembly. But when students are spending a substantial amount of money on their education, he believes, they're more likely to commit fully to their goals.

"ITP is a very intense two years—you are really completely focused," O'Sullivan says. "When you belong to some of these other options, your focus comes and goes. You can go to this session, or you can go to your uncle's barbecue." At ITP, by contrast, "You're paying all of this money, and it gets your undivided attention."

Even the ITP faculty is not entirely in agreement, however, about whether other alternatives can be equally valuable. Kio Stark has been an adjunct professor at the program for five years and teaches a variety of courses under the umbrella of relational technologies. She recently self-published a book titled Don't Go Back to School, which features more than 80 interviews with individuals who were able to learn skills through self-education.

Avery Max's "Neon God" "reflects" viewers in a wall of icons
Tom Igoe
Avery Max's "Neon God" "reflects" viewers in a wall of icons

"It's not that I think graduate school is never a good thing for people. It's that I really want them to understand there are paths to learning without it," explains Stark, who herself twice dropped out of a Yale graduate program. She holds an MA pro forma for completing two years of coursework but left before earning her Ph.D. "If you have some kind of financial support to get there, whether it's a fellowship or your parents, I'd say go for it."

The majority of ITP students pay for school with some combination of savings and loans, but not everyone can go on to develop a lucrative start-up like Foursquare to justify the cost of tuition. And though top companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft frequently send recruiters to ITP in search of fresh talent, not everyone can land a job like Anh Ly's. Some, believe it or not, don't even want to.

Matt Richardson, 30, is the creator of the Descriptive Camera, one of the more celebrated projects of this year's ITP Spring Show. The camera—which was featured in The New York Times, New York, and The Boston Globe—prints out a crowd-sourced text description of a scene rather than an actual picture. Although Richardson has been praised for the originality of his work, he says he has little hope of the Descriptive Camera achieving commercial success.

"While it's amusing to go out, take a picture, and get a description, the novelty wears off after a while," Richardson says. "It's making rounds in galleries, and people see it as a creative work, so if that's the way it best fits into the world, then I'm happy to have it seen in that context."

For every ardent entrepreneur in the program, there is a struggling musician, artist, or storyteller simply looking to create in new and provocative ways. Where do the bikini innovators and cyborg hopefuls fit into the job market? For these students, how their time at ITP will pay off in the long run might be harder to define.

"If your goal is to generically start an organization and make a lot of money, I would say your money might be better spent investing in a start-up," O'Sullivan says. "All the stuff you need to survive, you're going to have to do once you leave. All the weird stuff that the world is never going to ask you to do, we'll cover that."

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