A Diminuendo: Music Enrollment at U-32

Last year during scheduling, U-32 Senior Adam Blachly found out that Camerata and French V met during the same band.  He had to make a choice.  

Economists have a name for this kind of thinking: opportunity cost.  If Adam signed up for Camerata, that space in his schedule could not be used for French V. He needed to weigh the value of his time, a scarce resource, not just in terms of the value of Camerata, but also the opportunities he would give up if he signed up for the class.

“I think that I learn more through language than Camerata,” Adam said. “And I want to be prepared with language later in life more than singing.”  

Adam also said that French would make his schedule look more rigorous to colleges. In the end, he chose French V over Camerata, contributing to a pattern: U-32’s music programs have seen declining enrollment for several years.

The graph above from U-32 Student Services shows that for every music class, besides Jazz Band, the enrollment numbers at the beginning of each semester from have decreased over the course of five years.

The total number in Chorus (including Camerata and Union Chorus) has gone from 80 to 55. In Band, the number peaked at 32 then declined to 16, a 50% decrease. Strings has also taken a blow,  from 27 to 13, another 50% decline.

The music department and the administration have looked into the possible reasons for this decline but have no clear solution. U-32 Chorus teacher, Roger Grow says, “Declining arts enrollment isn’t just happening here, it seems to be a fairly widespread problem both in Vermont and nationwide.”

 

National Priorities

 

Unfortunately, it’s not just the students who determine a course’s “value”.    Across the country, schools have been forced to make hard decisions in a down economy. General budget cuts have been made in more than 80 percent of U.S. school districts since 20081.

On a federal level, art and music are not the priority; federal funding for the arts and humanities is around $250 million a year, while the National Science Foundation is funded at around $5 billion3.

Despite the numerous studies that show the benefits of arts and music education, school budget money is more concentrated towards “core subjects”, like English or Math, which require standardized testing. Increased funds in these subjects are meant to increase students participation rates and scores. In turn, the increase of scores and participation grant the school more education funding through federal programs like the No Child Left Behind Act and Common Core Standards. The school’s yearn for academic success that provides funding puts pressure on student’s choices on which classes to schedule.

 

Looking Good For College

 

“Most colleges regard language classes as more ‘legitimate’ because of the traditional class setting,” says VSAC counselor Clark Amadon,

Students’ decision to drop music is often driven by the need to keep a rigorous schedule for college applications.

“There’s always been a bias towards math, science, english, social studies, and foreign language,” Amadon says.  

“The reasoning is based on critical thinking skills being valued more than creative thinking ones. Colleges are looking for analytical skills first.”

 

Scheduling Conflicts

 

“I think scheduling [is a primary factor] because of the change of schedule which gave us fewer class slots, as well as increased class options (AP, etc.), and increasing student opportunities (both musical and otherwise) especially out of school,” said Chorus teacher Roger Grow.

To combat the problem the music teachers have had some conversations with Student Services and TAs about scheduling. Grow says, “We are working to keep our programs vital through programming choices, festival opportunities, and increasing awareness of what we do.”

Grow allows a small group of students who are unable to be in chorus class to prepare the music individually and sing in the concerts, or only attend the class during their off-lab band.

 

Students echo these scheduling difficulties. Senior Chris Killoran says, “When kids are taking multiple AP classes or a science with a lab band it makes fitting music much more difficult.”

Caption: The U-32 Camerata and Union Chorus combined in Fall 2012

Caption: The current U-32 Camerata chorus class

 

Commitment

 

Another big reason music isn’t appealing to students is because of the effort it can take to learn it.

“I quit band because I was bad and didn’t want to practice.” says Senior Jackson Root. “I think less kids are scheduling music classes because they don’t see immediate success in music, because it is so hard, so it doesn’t generally appeal to them.”

 

Disconnected Priorities

 

When students are designing schedules, they aren’t always choosing what they would find the most meaningful, instead caught up in outside influences by colleges and school administrations.

Roger Grow, “Culturally, while verbal support for the arts is high, financial and system support is lacking.”

Students see the same disconnect.

“I felt in Spanish class the skills I was learning were universal to any “academic” class,” says Senior Riley Flynn.

“Everywhere we go in life, we create ensembles of people,” Flynn says. “Those skills are transferable to anything.”

“I know that I won’t speak Spanish when I’m older but I hope that I will still be making music.”

 

WORKS CITED 

  1. Boyd, Stacey. “Extracurriculars Are Central to Learning.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/04/28/music-art-and-language-programs-in-schools-have-long-lasting-benefits>.
  2. Hambek, Jill. “Arts Programs in Schools Often in Danger of Being Cut.” The Washington Times. The Washington Times, 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/14/arts-programs-in-schools-often-in-danger-of-being-/>.
  3. Rebaudengo, Giuseppe. “Saving the Arts in our Nation’s Schools.” Thinking in Public. Accessed February 17, 2015.
  4. U-32 Student Services Enrollment Data
  5. Interview with Adam Blachly
  6. Interview with Clark Amadon
  7. Interview with Roger Grow
  8. Interview with Chris Killoran
  9. Interview with Jackson Root
  10. Interview with Riley Flynn