College Is About To Change Forever–And Music Education Is Not Immune

A class of 2020 graduate in a face mask outside of a building during the coronavirus pandemic of … [+] 2020.

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What comes to mind when you think about college? The beginning of “adulthood” and freedom from your parents? Long nights studying, dreaming of your future career and perhaps partying (when you should have been studying)? The hope of lifelong friendships, memories and a sense of pride to your alma mater? What happens if all of that is taken away and your experience is reduced to virtual learning? COVID-19 will significantly impact higher education, and music education may be forever changed.

The higher education landscape has substantially shifted in the last ten years since the Great Recession (2008-2010), with tuition costs rising an average of 3-4% annually over the last decade. The average cost of a four-year degree in 2019 carried an in-state price tag of $10,116 for public schools and $36,801 for private schools. On the other end of the spectrum, the total student loan debt is a massive $1.56 trillion, and 41% of recent college graduates (and 33% of all college graduates) are “underemployed,” working in fields that do not require college degrees.

The pandemic has pulled students from campuses across the globe, with some now demanding refunds on their tuition, citing the online experience is not what they originally paid for. Colleges are even exploring the cancellation of in-person classes until 2021, if not later. Universities have reported a drop in financial aid requests, leading to speculation around low enrollment numbers in the fall.

If paying the tuition doesn’t include the “college experience,” some are questioning whether traditional universities are worth the cost. Students considering music colleges are in a similar position.

The cost for top music schools for a single year is higher than the four-year degree national average, with Berklee College of Music at $45,890 and Belmont University at $37,030 per year in 2019, respectively. While some would say there is an argument to attend college for a music degree, there are others who outright oppose the concept. The debate as to whether a music degree is “worth it” has been a widely discussed topic on the internet, but hard data behind the number of professionals working in the music industry with music-specific degrees is scarce.

I believe the future of music education will take a new shape post-pandemic, largely migrating online and to alternative methods of learning and career development.

The value of a traditional four-year degree is currently being challenged. Top companies like Google
GOOGL, Apple
AAPL
and IBM
IBM
no longer require degrees for new hires. This trend will likely continue into the music industry, where professional experience has historically been weighted equally with education. Outside of upper management roles for major labels, agencies, and larger music companies, search results from job sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and more list degrees as “preferred,” typically after one to multiple years of experience under the list of “requirements.” 

Considering the growing list of music companies laying off and furloughing employees, which include LiveNation, Paradigm, UTA and more, will the value of experience objectively exceed that of education with regard to employment?

An increasing number of companies are launching music courses online. In researching this article, I counted over a dozen advertised on Facebook alone, many of which launched in the past year. These companies, such as Ari’s Take, Indepreneur and Music Industry Blueprint, offer access to courses on everything from music marketing, artist management, content development and more, most of which range from free to less than a thousand dollars each. A prospective student weighing the costs of a brick and mortar institution vs. a growing number of online course offerings may consider the online education route more carefully than in previous years.

Education has been a target for disruption over the last two decades, with $38.7 billion invested in the sector, 62% of which was invested between 2015-17 alone. Successful startups like Teachable and Udemy allow instructors to post courses, and LinkedIn has taken a significant leap forward in the market with the acquisition of Lynda.com and the launch of LinkedIn Learning, shortening the gap between education and employment. This raises an important question: what do employers value more in applicants––education or experience?

With students seeking lower-cost alternatives over traditional brick-and-mortar schools, a growing number of online courses, employers questioning the value of a degree and no visible end to off-campus regulations, music education will likely be forever changed due to the pandemic. The real question is, who will be the most successful at tackling the career and workforce development aspect, not only offering the best educational content but connecting music students to gainful employment to earn a living?

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