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VSU’s enrollment decrease could hurt programs in the music department

Christina Kato, a junior psychology major, walked into Whitehead Auditorium with a joyous feeling during her freshman year. This was her first concert with Concert Band. After finding her seat in a u-shaped pattern that was spaced out in perfect symmetry, Kato pulled out her instrument. Time crawled and crawled until it reached 6:30. Showtime! The conductor finally raised her hands with the magic wand. The band readied their attention, and Kato began to play the beginning note. With her tuba in hand, Kato played the tune in such silence that a pen could be heard if it were dropped. Her eyes were closed as if she was in a deep sleep wandering through sheets of music. Suddenly a noise was heard. A noise that included several instruments coming together to sound as one. With this, Kato felt at home and realized that this was where she belonged. 

But, programs like Concert Band may experience budget cuts due to a decrease in enrollment at VSU. With this trend, the university plans to implement major changes to enhance the college experience. 

Not only does enrollment decline affect the physical growth of a university, but it also affects the financial support that it receives. According to the USG’s annual budget reports, in the past two academic years, VSU received reduced funding that was synonymous with declining enrollment rates.  

Dr. Benjamin Harper,  director of the bands, described the plan that would have to be taken if budget cuts slithered their way to Concert Band and other university band programs. 

“Specifically, for bands, one thing that might change due to potential budget cuts is the purchasing of new music,” said Harper. “We might have to scale that back and perform more standard and older music that is already in our library. This is something that we already do, but we would have to perform more of it because we wouldn’t have the resources to purchase the newest music available.” 

Concert Band is a program at VSU that allows students from various majors to perform with an ensemble while also improving their individual musician and performance skills. About 150 to 160 students participate in the various university bands, such as Marching Band, Concert Band, Basketball Band and Wind Ensemble.  Concert Band members perform twice a year during the spring semesters. 

Lower enrollment rates may have also affected other aspects located in the Department of Music such as factors that support degree offerings. 

According to the Office of Institutional Research at VSU, 10.1 percent of VSU’s total enrollment for spring 2022 have declared majors in programs found in the College of the Arts. Whereas students that have declared (and some undeclared) majors in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences make up 29.0 percent of VSU’s total enrollment. 

“We have suffered budget cutbacks, and we have lost faculty lines,” said Isrea Butler, the department head of music. “We lost our operating budget. Without utilizing the end-of-year spending, we were not able to purchase the equipment that we needed. The budget was cut during COVID, and then, it was cut again.” 

Butler described his experience of seeing programs within the arts at other institutions undergo termination. 

 “Currently, the music program at one of my previous institutions is being phased out,” said Butler. “Once they graduate the last person, there won’t be a program anymore. After a couple of people retired and others resigned, the institution didn’t replace faculty for the department. So, without anyone to teach, there is no one to recruit. Music is not like math where you go to study math. You go to study music with a specific professor. They, in essence, killed the program by not having faculty there.” 

 Kato explained the impact that Concert Band has had on her past and will have on her future if it were to experience budget cuts. 

“Concert band has changed my life because that’s how my musical career started,” said Kato. “Band has always been my thing, it has always been my go-to, it has been my passion, and it has been my coping mechanism. I’m guaranteed to have a spot with Concert Band and without it, a whole half of the year would go by without me being able to pick up my instrument. I would be extremely sad if VSU eliminated or cut back on the concert band. I’m counting on the Strategic Plan to work! 

Written by Kianna Ross, staff writer. 

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