Is the current proliferation of creative writing courses nothing more than a big Ponzi scheme? Benjamin Markovits ponders the question in an interesting article in the London Review of Books.
My comment on his piece observes that many university arts courses could be seen as self-perpetuating, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing (unless one believes that society does not need to concern itself with human culture). But there are other factors too which have led to the growth of creative writing in the academy, privately, and in some publishing houses (e.g. Faber), not least the changing face of publishing itself.
Back in the nineties, I interned in a small Dublin publishing house, where I ran errands and worked through the 'slush' pile for free, as a possible first step to working in the industry. I realised that (in a small publishers, at least) the job of the editor was as much about market trends and balance sheets as it was about actual, line-by-line, editing. The Editor as time-rich mentor seemed already to be a thing of the past, and this seems to be the case much more so today. The Agent stepped into the breach, to an extent, until she too found herself under pressures of other aspects of the job. Enter the Creative Writing Course. Graduates of these courses produce books that have been workshopped and, to a large extent, already edited; the more 'ready' the book, the easier the job of the agent. Hence regular agent visits to university and publisher courses, and ever increasing demand for those courses.
Creative writing courses seem to me to be both a response to student demand (Ponzi-like or not), while also meeting demand from the publishing industry itself.