Photographic Technology Department Chair Bill Woodhull talks about the ACC program's focus on preparing students to run a photography business, its far-flung student body, and what it offers aspiring pros who want to get a solid education in photography without breaking the bank.
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PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Bill Woodhull: We teach business, and very few schools teach business classes in photography to their photography students. It's cheap, you get a great education, and you're taught by pros. I don't know that this program could exist at the level it does in too many other places, because I get a lot of really good working pros to teach for me because there's not enough business to keep them busy 60 hours a week. We make them do a semester's worth of training before we put them in a classroom. And other than Brooks and a few other places, you're not going to go anyplace where there's better gear.
We don't require a lot of equipment to be owned by the student. In fact, a student can go through the entire program with a DLSR, a couple of lenses, a flash, a tripod, and a portable hard drive. The studio equipment is all in place, and we have Canon and Nikon equipment that can be checked out. And for the entire program for somebody in the district, tuition and fees are about $5,400. So dollar for dollar, there's nothing that I'm aware of that compares to what students can get at ACC.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Bill Woodhull: The traditional college student,18 to 21 years old, is probably only about 20% to 25% of my students. The over-50 crowd probably makes up 10% to 15%. The 21- to 30-year-olds, and the 30- to 50-year-olds split whatever is left. Often, they had kids early and are coming back to school. They've taken some pictures, people thought they did nice work, and suddenly they realized they need to learn more. Or there’s the high-tech guy who's worked 20 years for Dell, is tired of being in a cubicle, and wants to run a photography business. If I had to say what our average student is like, it would probably be a 28-year-old divorced woman with two kids.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Bill Woodhull: The campus was built in 1990. Austin Community College has 47,000 students on eight campuses. The photography program is only on one of the eight campuses. Our service area is literally the size of the state of New Jersey.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Bill Woodhull: We have a class called “Studio Management.” It's misnamed, because not many people run actual studios anymore. It should be called “The Business of Photography.” If they're going to get a degree in one of the three commercial-based degree plans, students must take that class. If they're not, the other two degree plans have a required class called “Small Business Management” that's taught through the business department. All students have to take a class called “Accounting for Non-business Majors.” It's an accounting class designed for the self-employed. We understand that professional photography is 20% photography and 80% business. And most schools ignore the 80% and only teach the 20.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Bill Woodhull: We don't require students to do internships, and that's a question that comes up a lot. Our experience in Austin is that because we have so many students there aren't enough places to do the internships. Our philosophy is that if a photographer comes to us with an intern position, we'll put that person in touch with students who will go out and do a good job, and the student has to make the determination. Because we don’t require internships for credit, doing an internship doesn't cost students money, and they get to make the choice of whether they want to go out and be free labor for 20 hours a week.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Bill Woodhull: We try to bring in a national speaker at least once a semester through a group like ASMP or MAC Group or Canon. Last spring we had Seth Resnick, and we’ve had Jack Reznicki. Blake Discher’s come down to talk about business with our classes.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Bill Woodhull: Students are required to take a course called “Portfolio” that requires them to enter the annual Texas PPA print competition in Kerrville Texas. We make the students prepare a four-image portfolio for competition head-to-head against the professionals. Usually about 18 or 19 students go down there each summer. Probably about 80% of the prints submitted by students hang, and last year of all the images that were hung at the competition, 22% of them belonged to my students.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Bill Woodhull: Self-employment. In the current class I have right now, there are five students going into retail work and seven going into commercial. I think we're seeing a swing a little more toward the commercial. Five to eight years ago, it was 95% retail, and it was almost exclusively dominated by women. More women are interested in commercial work now. If I had six guys and six women in a class before, I'd have five women doing portrait, one guy doing portrait, five guys doing commercial, and one woman doing commercial. Now the commercial split is probably 60/40 guys to girls. But the portrait work is still predominantly girls.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
Bill Woodhull: I think our biggest news recently was rolling out five degree plans, instead of the two we had in the past. We also started encouraging students two years ago to think about learning video. So now that we actually have a degree that incorporates it.
Going forward, one of our plans is to have an auditorium. We've also bought a mall that went out of business. Can you believe a community college buying a mall? There is talk of making it a multimedia campus with performance halls, lecture halls, and some other things that would be nice additions. So it's going to be a perfect location for whatever the school decides to use it for. Final decisions probably won't be made for a year and it would probably be four years until it’s completed.