Monday, September 16, 2013

Buyer Beware: Education Debt

In Buyer Beware: Education Debt, Ellen McSweeney discusses the issue with the expensive cost of higher education, and what it means to musicians.  McSweeney brings up a few interesting points about the issue of musicians who have to pay off their student loans and make a living off of being a musician at the same time.

First of all, the word "entrepreneurship" has been a word of topic recently for musicians.  With orchestras going bankrupt, and academia jobs requiring doctorate level degrees to be even considered, musicians must find other ways to make a living.  Many schools such as Eastman, the Manhattan School, Yale, and New England Conservatories now have a center specifically designed to help students become entrepreneurs.  This includes creating your own projects, ensembles, and having a "strong online presence."  I certainly agree that these opportunities will create more jobs and financial stability; however, that brings up the question of: how can we develop entrepreneurship without financial freedom in the first place?  Having to pay the bills and student loans at the same time significantly decreases your freedom to choose what jobs you take, and the time needed to practice, research, buy equipment, network, among other factors.  Many students are unaware, or simply ignore the reality that the time will come when we have to repay our debt, and have been unprepared for it.

The article brings up several points that are legitimate concerns for musicians with higher education debt.

  • Most of us do not realize that having a job outside of music is painful but necessary.  As a result, we have less time to practice and focus on music itself.
  • It's expensive to fly to auditions, attend workshops and festivals, and pay for an expensive instrument.  The most expensive part is all the unpaid hours spent practicing.
  • We live in a society where our financial situations are in secrecy.  We feel shame when talking about our financial debt.
  • The struggle between going to a prestigious and expensive school and a cheaper but lesser known school.  What looks good on a resume may not be worth the cost of school.
Some solutions in the article are presented by the graduated students interviewed in the article.  A student suggests capping your debt, because the school does not matter as much as how much work you put into it.  Personally, I think it is good to have a balance of education cost and the school itself.  The most important aspect would be the private teacher, who would be spending the most time with you.  Another student suggests taking time off graduate school or skip it completely.  Graduate school has been an integral part of being a more well-rounded musician for me, and I am not sure if that suggestion applies for everyone.  I do, however, think that time off from school is an important point.  Students lose focus on how life outside of academia is like.  A student also suggests that you cannot pay your way to strong networking.  I disagree, because being in a university or conservatory allows you to meet many musicians that will eventually be in the same small realm of musicians.  However, I do believe that many musicians are unaware of how important networking is, though it seems like spending hours in the practice room is more productive.

Musicians are given so many different opportunities to make money doing what they love.  However, we also have to spend many hours doing gigs and jobs that we dislike, especially with the high cost of education.  We need to seek to be more creative, and deal with our financial instability head on.  There is unfortunately not one solution, as the situation for every musician is different.  The important thing is to know what we are getting ourselves into, and knowing from early in our education what solutions are possible for us to pay for our education.

No comments: