Keep IVCC competitive; careful with cutting classes

Illinois doesn’t have a budget. Newspapers of every sort have been discussing this reality for a long time. Colleges in Illinois are struggling, and they are having to make cuts to stay open. IVCC is no exception.

It is common knowledge that when it comes time to tighten belts, art and music programs are often the first to go. I don’t know what the future of the arts at IVCC looks like, but I fear for them.

As a musician, I feel particularly attached to music classes. I recognize that if things need to go, things need to go, and if it’s a choice between the school closing entirely and losing music programming then so be it. I can only hope that music does not become a budgeting scapegoat.

I’m not just a music student though—I also study business. I believe that it is possible that a decision to cut music classes to save money now could end up costing IVCC in the long run.

IVCC offers three music classes (which term I’m using to describe lectures/labs in the classroom setting, with a group of students): Music Appreciation, Music Theory I and Music Theory II. We also have music lessons, choirs and three active instrumental ensembles. Music Appreciation satisfies a general education requirement and will thus probably outlast most cuts.

Music Theory I and II are music-major specific; they are open to the general student population, but are usually taken by students specifically going into some music field. Thus, they tend to have very low enrollment.

However, there are many different music-related majors that require these classes. IVCC used to offer the next two classes that are also required of music majors by universities, Music Theory III and IV, but these classes are no longer offered. This has affected me as a transfer music major; I’ll be a year behind my peers in these classes.

Still, as it stands right now, IVCC’s music program is comparable to that of most surrounding community colleges. Rock Valley and Heartland both offer only Music Theory I and II, but they also have music history classes that IVCC does not offer.

On the other hand, Joliet Junior College has a full-out music program, with all four semesters of theory, along with other music classes listed on their course planning sheet updated in 2016. Carl Sandburg, Kishwaukee and Sauk Valley, however, do not offer any Music Theory classes. What this means for IVCC is that, while our music program is fairly competitive, even if it is not strong.

This doesn’t have to be true, though! Frankly, as a high school musician in the area, I made so many incredible musician friends who almost all chose to go straight to university because IVCC’s music program is a bit compromised.

It’s a cycle: we have a weak program because enrollment is low…we have low enrollment because we have a weak program. To be clear, we have fabulous, educated, strong music teachers here; it’s not weak in that sense, we just don’t offer enough opportunities to meet the needs of music majors.

Three area high schools with strong band and choir programs (Mendota, Ottawa, and LaSalle-Peru) contribute significantly to IVCC’s student body. There are multiple busy music studios and educational ensembles in the area; I’ve learned in, played in and worked with (and for) almost all of them. Take it from someone who knows: we have lots of music major material in the district, but most of it is going right to universities. Cutting any more music classes will cut music majors out of IVCC’s legacy entirely.

Any potential cuts to music at IVCC can be contrasted with Western Illinois University’s increased focus on music in recent years.

Trista Trone, Recruitment Coordinator for WIU’s School of Music, explains that “Music students come [to the School of Music] with high GPA’s, many join the honors college, are incredibly active on campus and are quite visible in the community … those are the kind of students any college wants on their campus.” She says that for these reasons, WIU administration has supported their department, drawing many excellent students to the school.

While state universities and rural community colleges face different realities, they are in competition for two years of a person’s education. If IVCC had a top-notch music program, one that competed with not just area community colleges, but with the experiences they could get in their first two years at university, music students who normally wouldn’t come to IV might make a choice to come here. There is even the possibility that it could draw students from other districts to our school. It’s not unheard of; until recently, area high schoolers going into agriculture would commute to Joliet Junior College just to be a part of their program. Students from other districts come to IVCC to play sports.

I graduate next month, having gotten everything out of my time here at IVCC as I possibly could. I’ve had a blast. However, I have two brothers still in high school—Elliot and Robin. Elliot has been attending here as a dual-enrollment homeschooled student this past year and will be heading off to Western Illinois University in the fall. Robin is a couple years behind him and they both hope to be music composition majors.

The availability of theory classes at IVCC has been and will continue to be a major planning consideration. IVCC may lose Robin’s contributions, and the contributions of dozens of kids like him, by laying a finger on music classes, because, as Trone points out, the loss of these core classes at community college would force them to “stay in school for 5 or 6 years, adding to their overall student loan debt.”

She says that many students, rather than add this time and money, will choose to “go straight to a 4 year institution,” costing the student much more and costing community colleges enrollment numbers. It’s really a lose-lose situation.
Arts are important, but so is having a school. Choosing to cut classes may be a necessary evil, but the costs will outlast the cuts. Enrollment is an important statistic to any college administration; the loss of music and art classes will affect enrollment long term, and it will be hard to rebuild the program.

I am not an educational finance expert, and I know that tough choices need to be made. However, I hope that in these uncertain times, the experts with their fingers on the buttons upstairs will weigh these tough choices carefully—for the sake of the students and the legacy of our school.