CMS Forums Monthly Discussion- October: Institutional Developments Since the 2008 Economic Recession

November 24, 2015

For its inaugural month, CMS Forums Monthly Discussion asked the membership about developments that have occurred at their respective institutions since the 2008 economic crisis. This significant event in United States history has greatly impacted my institution, changing everything from recruiting to curriculum development to financial decisions. Through conversations with colleagues from other institutions, it became clear that ours was not the only school affected. The responses to this discussion (collected throughout the month of October 2015, with 118 people starting and 45 completing it) confirmed this view, provided insight as to how other institutions have handled this situation, and raised important questions.

In order to ensure that the responses given were as focused as possible, it was decided to begin with four multiple-choice questions asking how much things have changed for the responder’s school. The questions asked about the number of students transferring to or from the school, the emphasis on job placement after graduation, and student concerns regarding their tuition and fees. The possible answers for each ranged from no change or effect to a significant change or effect, and were the same for each question.

The questions and their responses are as follows:

1. The number of students transferring to the responder’s school.
No change/effect - 20
Slight change/effect - 16
Moderate change/effect - 7
Significant change/effect - 1

2. The number of students transferring from the responder’s school.
No change/effect - 28
Slight change/effect - 15
Moderate change/effect - 1
Significant change/effect - 0

3. The emphasis on job placement after graduation.
No change/effect - 4
Slight change/effect - 9
Moderate change/effect - 18
Significant change/effect - 13

4. Concerns raised by students regarding their tuition and fees.
No change/effect - 10
Slight change/effect- 5
Moderate change/effect - 13
Significant change/effect - 16

As can be seen, the majority of responders have not seen much of an effect in regards to transfer rates, but have seen a change in the emphasis on post-graduation job placement and student concerns regarding their tuition and fees. The latter is likely to impact transfer rates more significantly as time goes on, as rising tuition rates will cause more students to leave their chosen institution (either voluntarily or involuntarily). In addition, the increased emphasis on job placement (which ties directly into the needs of the industry) will make for more challenges for music schools. As we who are in the profession know, there are plenty of opportunities available, but sometimes those who are not in our field are unwilling to listen, preferring instead to follow the outdated belief that music graduates can either teach or perform, and do nothing else.

The next questions provided an opportunity for the responders to write freely, and asked about changes that have occurred and have been discussed (but not yet implemented), as well as any additional comments they might have. The comments provided for current and potential changes primarily focused on four areas: curriculum, budget, enrollment issues, and recruiting. One comment mentioned that students seem less prepared, have more unrealistic goals, and thus a larger need for counseling, which they felt was largely served by faculty (who, it was also mentioned, are “less prepared for academia” and “more self-focused”).

Curricular changes that have occurred are almost exclusively music industry courses and degree programs (technology in particular). There was one mention of schedule revisions that have been made “with repercussions for the complex and interlocking school of music schedule and instructional time.” Technology is an easy path to explore when trying to justify a music degree to those outside of our profession, but is it the correct one? What will the job market look like in this area in the coming years? There are many factors to consider when answering this question, such as the various places where employment can take place as well as the fact that many musicians want technical training so they can record themselves and avoid paying someone else for studio time. This curricular approach must be explored further in order to ensure such curriculum development is really the correct way to go.

The budget concerns mentioned covered a number of topics, with some addressing the issue by discussing changes in enrollment policies, such as allowing up to 150 students to enroll in one online class or raising the number of students needed for a course to be considered at full enrollment. An increased focus on the school’s budget, the freezing of hiring and faculty salaries (in one case, regardless of whether someone has retired), reduction of staff support (forcing faculty to do more clerical work), reducing the number of credits required to graduate, and capping the number of credits non-majors can enroll in were also mentioned. These are all valid concerns, and it would behoove the profession to look into them further and how they impact effective instruction.

Comments regarding recruiting discussed the amount of tuition paid by students, the challenge of some schools focusing more on STEM degrees than the arts, the focus on “customer service” by staff (the issue of students being viewed as customers has been a sensitive one whenever I have seen it brought up), and the concern over a market flooded with music programs. If we focus the research on the latter on degrees, we could find some very interesting data. Is there too much competition for students nowadays? Is it necessary for a school to add a music degree to its offerings if there are already several throughout the state? Obviously, if there is student demand within the institution then it is, but it seems as though some of our colleagues want to add a degree because everyone else is doing it. This is not the reason to create a degree, music programs can still be important to our society as a whole if they do not have students majoring in the discipline. Further research in this area would be very helpful.

Potential changes for budgets and enrollment stayed centered on programs being more cost effective and redefining minimum enrollment for a course. In this section of the discussion, recruiting was not mentioned, but holding faculty more accountable for post-graduation career placement and success were (in particular for music education students, being measured by their students’ achievements). Some of this will strike some of our colleagues as disturbing and illogical, but it’s important to note that these are only changes being discussed. According to these responders, they have not been implanted.

The curriculum-based ideas all focused on reforming the current offerings. This includes reassessing how ear training is taught, expanding degree offerings in strings, music therapy, and music technology (all of which contradict the aforementioned concern about a flooded market), and reducing the number of credit hours for ensembles in an effort to preserve state-funded scholarships for students that are based on the number of credits completed. Prioritizing current offerings is also mentioned, and again something that needs more research. This logically pairs with the examination of the number of degree-granting programs students have to choose from.

In the “additional comments” section colleagues mentioned their concern with the debt students take on, a decrease in faculty rights, and the role of adjunct instructors in institutions (the low pay they receive, and the fact that full-time faculty must be empathetic if anything is to change). These are all important points to consider, and ones that will undoubtedly come up more frequently through time, the issues with adjunct instructors in particular. As more people graduate with music degrees we increase the difficulty they have in securing a full-time position somewhere and the likelihood that a good portion of their careers will be spent as adjunct instructors. Part-time teaching is preferred for some of our colleagues but not all, and it is beneficial for students to have greater access to their instructors, a need that is easy to accommodate if they are full-time. If we are forced to have a large number of faculty teach for our institutions part-time, we must at least compensate them more fairly.

Overall, I found this discussion to be extremely informative. Many of the comments provided were thought provoking and warrant further research. It is my hope that my colleagues will take the information provided here and explore it and its implications further, ideally publishing an article for us all to benefit from. A lot has changed, and has yet to change, and we must keep the conversation going if we are to navigate these waters successfully.

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