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Recruiting in small liberal arts schools

This question is addressed to those of you teaching in small liberal arts schools.  Can you share whether/how your administration contributes to recruiting efforts for the music department and/or ensembles?  What kind of support do you receive?  What obstacles do you face? 
on July 18, 2011 5:18am
Not a lot.  The Admissions Dept includes a check-off box ("I am interested in vocal music") on the application form, and also on the housing form.  Every year at midsummer, I ask the Admissions folks and the Housing Office to send me spreadsheets of everyone who checked one of those boxes, with their home addresses.  Then I mail-merge a letter to all of them inviting them to join the choral program.  We have a similar system for the bands.  Since we are not a music school, that is all I can count on, but I think it does make a difference.
The biggest obstacle I have faced is a complete failure of understanding in the Development Office of how a tour by the chorus could aid local fund-raising efforts.  Several times, I called them and said, "I am bringing the College Chorale to (Worcester, or wherever).  Can you let local alumni know about the concert?  Can we put together a small reception for local alumni where they can meet the singers, etc?"  And for years the answer was "Why would we want to do this?"  It was absurd.  Studies show that meeting students currently studying at your alma mater is the strongest way to establish a strong emotional tie to the school, but for a long time the fund-raisers wanted none of it.  This isn't really about recruiting, but it does have an impact on the choral program, since with a tiny budget and no other sources of support, I can't afford much in the way of touring or run-out concerts.
on July 20, 2011 8:05am
I teach at a very small liberal arts college (1000 students), and am happy to have the full support of our administration, development, alumni, and financial aid departments. The development office actually approaches me about our choir participating in alumni functions and helps to fund a spring tour in which connecting with alumni is a major focus. We regularly receive large donations from alumni at these post-concert receptions. I agree with you, Nathaniel, that it is a major failure of your development office to see the benefit of such an event...and an event that requires very little resources!!
One of our biggest recruiting tools for our Performing Arts program is our top choral ensemble--a 20-voice a cappella scholarship group that I established basically as a PR group that represents the college at all sorts of events and tours each spring. Students receive a mere $2500/year to sing in the group, but the administration is very supportive because they have seen how effective this group is with regard to recruiting and connecting with alumni.
I have to say that our department does most of our own recruiting, attending Performing Arts fairs, visiting high schools, etc. Admissions supports these activities financially, but the faculty attend...and it works great for us.
Hope that's helpful. 
on July 22, 2011 9:11am
That's wonderful, Timm!  Does each student receive that amount?
My own experience in Virginia with the top two public liberal arts schools shows that the music ensembles and department receive little support from the admininstration-at-large.  It is up to the individual ensembles and sometimes the department to drum up their own support.  They have begun reaching out with concerts throughout the state during which they "survey" the ensemble, showing that it's possible for many non-majors and double-majors to participate in music.  And that seems to be the main message: "You can stay involved with music even while you pursue law school, medical school, history, psychology, foreign languages, etc."
Ensembles are also beginning to publish and share audio and video to reach out to prospective students, alumni, family, and friends.  e.g.,  It pays to be in touch with your school's publicity offices (the alumni magazine, the web team, the school paper, etc.).  Their job is to toot the school's horn, but they can only publish what they know.  Keep them in the know!
Of course, music doesn't have to be a "side" thing at a top liberal arts school, but it takes time and a concerted effort to rebrand the department and recruit both the faculty and students needed to stand on its own.  The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is moving in this direction.
Looking forward to hearing more from others.
on July 23, 2011 8:39am
Both posts were very helpful - especially since they seem to be opposite ends of the spectrum. My situation  has been similar to Nathaniel's, yet I knew that there were colleges like the one where Timm teaches, that see the value of supporting the ensembles as a recruiting tool. I will share these posts (without your names) with a member of the Development office. 
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