US university slashes music

US university slashes music


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2021

Ithaca College, which was founded as a music school, is taking an axe to its music teaching.

Out of the graduate programs that are being abiloshed, four are Masters of Music in, respectively, Performance, Conducting, Composition, and Suzuki Pedagogy and String Performance.

In all, Ithaca plans to cut 116 posts, 3 departments and 17 underfrad programs.

End of the line in Ithaca.




  • Anthony Sayer says:

    That’s a real shame. It’s turned out an inordinate amount of high-quality musical theatre stage performers and musicians.

  • Patricia says:

    Perhaps that College – not university – hasn’t enough students to justify those programs. They are, after all, right next door to Cornell, which has a very strong program in performance and musicology. This article gives no reasons for the change.

    • Ithaca Alum says:

      The official statements from the College confirms that the reason for the cuts are indeed financial. The committee explicitly stated that it is because the programs fail to generate net income, causing much dismay to those who value the abundant educational value of those programs. The graduate programs there had a lot to offer not just for the enrolled students but to the School of Music overall.

      (While Cornell has a good music program, it is not a performance-oriented program.)

    • Joseph Olefirowicz says:

      Cornell’s music program is a shadow of Ithaca’s. Ithaca College’s School of Music has been a beacon of Ithaca College’s identity since its founding as a Music Conservatory in 1892.

    • Chuck says:

      It’s also understood these days that most of IC’s graduate students are on a stipend or waiver program, so even they are not revenue generators. That wasn’t always the case. What is odd is now the classes the grad students taught will have to be taught by faculty, so I’m not seeing the savings. Most importantly is that the undergrad program remains strong, and students, especially in music ed, pretty much are going to find work when they graduate. The college’s reputation is strong in this regard.

    • Alan says:

      this comment is laughable. If you knew anything about the two programs, Ithaca’s music department blows Cornell’s out of the water.

  • Joel Lazar says:


    • Kyle says:

      Do you mean to communicate that it is disgraceful that Ithaca is cutting the programs? Or do you mean to communicate that it is disgraceful so many colleges and universities in the U.S. have been granting expensive degrees in programs that often don’t result in employment opportunities that provide incomes that can meet the associated loan obligations, all-the-while being subsidized by federal student loan granting practices, at least partially on the taxpayers’ dime, and now the federal government is going to bail-out the borrowers, which effectively bails out the lenders and universities? If we’re talking disgraceful, I vote for the later.

      I agree with Anthony Sayer, above, who describes this as a shame, but disgraceful? C’mon. It might even be responsible.

      • Joseph Olefirowicz says:

        It is a disgrace. They systematically are going after programs which traditionally do not produce huge donors while leaving the larger donor departments nearly intact.

      • Basso Continuoso says:

        A musical education is not about making money, it’s about learning to make music. It’s an avocation, not a vocation. People who go into it expecting to make money are certain to be disappointed.

        • Kyle says:

          I am personally all too well aware of the truth of your statement. That is why I think it is a shame that a very good school is cutting programs that should probably be cut at other schools first.

          However, your statement exemplifies the basic problem. We all know most students who go to music school are not going to have a career in music that pays the bills. Yet money is readily available to borrow in order to study music, because going to college is considered a good investment regardless of degree program. That props up poor music departments – and poor departments in many fields – with a ready supply of 18-year-olds who spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education that doesn’t help them contribute to society, even if it enriches their lives.

          I don’t want to see good schools close down music programs, but there should be fewer people graduating with music degrees. This is true in other areas as well. Far too many people are graduating with law degrees in the U.S., for example.

          Finally, Ithaca is a private institution. They may fairly be judged for the actions they take, and there should be consequences as appropriate, but they can do what they want in many respects.

          Warm regards.

    • Larry D says:

      It’s all Peter Gelb’s fault! Somehow.

  • CRWang says:

    If you can’t major in music, then there are other money generating and highly employable majors such as Dance and Fine Arts. Best investments for a degree. Guaranteed incomes to pay off student loans.

    • Joseph Olefirowicz says:

      Wow. Ignorant much? I am an Ithaca grad with a very good income. With concentrations in both music and theatre. Ithaca grads are very successful in their arts industries. They are also a powerhouse producing Broadway performers and designers.

    • Basso Continuoso says:

      Dance studio owners work hard, but are better at making money than music teachers.

  • Günther Kraus says:

    I fear that Ithaca College will become the rule, not be the exception, among US Music Schools.

    Music Departments have always been a money loser for American Universities, mostly due to the amount of one-on-one instruction music students receive. One voice professor, who in a semester might teach 15 students, is paid as much as a law professor, who in a single lecture class will easily reach 200 students.

    It would not surprise me if many music students saw the writing on the wall and decided to defer their return to school, leaving the University strapped for cash.

    It is no secret that there is a disequilibrium between the number of music students that American Music Schools are churning out and the number of musicians the industry can support. While I do not gain any pleasure at the discontinuation of any graduate program in music, I hope that perhaps these programs can be merged with similar graduate programs from other schools, leading to a more equitable balance between the amount of well trained musicians graduating from Universities and work.

    • Almejo says:

      “One voice professor, who in a semester might teach 15 students, is paid as much as a law professor, “ What planet do you live in? Or, where’s that music school that pays music professors as much as law professors? I agree, music schools are expensive because there’s much one-on-one teaching; but it just boils down to if an educational institution wants to have a music school on its campus, which enriches the experience of all students not just music students and provides invaluable service to the community in the form of music performances. What will be of communities and society in general without the gift of music?

    • Basso Continuoso says:

      You are wrong, because one-on-one teachers do not get paid anywhere like full professors who only teach 3-4 one-hour classes at a time. They are mostly adjunct, getting paid maybe $30-35 an hour, if that, and only at the end of the semester.

  • Monsoon says:

    This leaves out a lot of context about what’s going on:

    “Over the past decade, enrollment rates have fallen at the school from 6,654 in fall 2011, to 5,200 in fall 2020. However, in 2011 there were 545 full-time equivalent faculty members, compared to 554 in 2020. During that time period, the faculty number peaked at 596 in fall 2016, when there were 6,555 full-time students. The student:faculty ratio as of fall 2020 is 9.4:1.”

    A 20 percent drop in enrollment over 4 years. Yikes.

    • Basso Continuoso says:

      The school does no publicizing or promotion that is visible. It is an unknown entity in New York City. It does not compete with the State University system, which has music departments all over the state. It is just not well run.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    The pandemic has been hitting smaller private colleges and universities in the US very hard indeed. Programs of all sorts are being canceled everywhere one looks, and several institutions, including ones of long standing and good reputation, are simply closing their doors.

  • Chilynne says:

    This is so sad. When I was a student at Cornell, the truly professional music theater productions were by Ithaca College students, not Cornellians. What a loss!

  • drummerman says:

    Back in the day — ie., before the State University of New York system was created — Ithaca College was one of the very best places for music education degrees in the Northeast. No disrespect to anyone associated with it now but the music department had lost much of its stature, partly due to there being several excellent SUNY music schools who, by the way, also charged a lot less tuition. Still, this is sad news indeed.

  • David J Hyslop says:

    As a graduate of Ithaca College and its School of Music, this news saddens me but I also know these are very grim times and that includes difficult times for academia .

  • MD with an oboe says:

    There are far too many places to study music performance. The reality is that most of the young people who study music performance will not find a job in music performance… not even those studying in major highly selective conservatoires in London, Vienna, Berlin, Paris and NY. If they are very lucky they will land a teaching job.

    In how many universities, conservatoires and orchestras can one study a master’s degree in orchestra conducting, oboe or harp? How many professional, amateur and community orchestras are there? The numbers don’t lie. Training musicians (and making them believe that they will have a career) has become a business on its own, specially in the US.

    It would be better if most of them studied something else and also trained as musicians on the side. I’d rather study something else and have a profession that allows me to pay the rent and play in my local community orchestra, than getting a Bachelor of Music in performance and work in a Starbucks.

    The world of music would be better with 40% less high-education music schools and 30% more orchestras, opera performances, festivas etc.

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Indeed. And there are amateur musicians without degrees in music (but in engineering, sciences or humanities) that play as well as professional musicians with degrees. And often are happier, because they have good income from their non-music job, and can enjoy music making without the pressure of the profession. I have always said that [in Europe] it would be much better to have less Musikhochschule, conservatoire, and higher education music schools, and more professional and community orchestras and children and adult non-degree music education centres and programs (the name of these schools change from country to country).

      • SVM says:

        A broad base of amateurs is certainly a good thing, but that is no reason to discourage people from studying for a music degree.

        I know many people working in non-music jobs who remember their student days studying music with great fondness, and who feel that their music degree was highly locupletative to their development. And it is surely a good thing that society has some bankers, civil servants, administrators, journalists, lawyers, delivery drivers, nurses, care-home workers, building maintenance managers, &c. who possess a degree-level understanding of music and who (maybe) care about music enough to advocate for the vital importance of music and professional musicians.

        Many people *choose* to study for a music degree, with their eyes fully open to the difficulty of “making it” in the music profession, in order to have the chance to *really* focus on music for 3-4 years in a way that they may never have the chance to do again, even if they *do* “make it” as professional musicians. So many people have to work jobs (including ‘professional’ jobs) that they do not enjoy for some or all of their careers; in that context, it is all the more important that they should have the opportunity to study for a degree that they are confident they will find stimulating (rather than be condemned to study for a degree they do not enjoy), and be able to take ownership of their educational development.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    It is shameful, it was a very large music department not that long ago, but probably complacent and did not do enough to promote it. Imagine being a full-fledged music school and yet no harp program.

  • Mario says:

    They did the right thing. No reason to “scam” people when after graduation only a small percentage can realize their dreams.

  • Jack says:

    My choir director in college, a superb musician, was an Ithaca grad. How sad.

  • I can understand cutting conducting and composition. Especially composition. Those would be pretty much worthless degrees.

  • anon says:

    It’d be irresponsible for most schools NOT to reduce their music programs, afterall, what would they be preparing their graduates for, a tenured job at the … Met Orchestra?

    Schools that continue to indiscriminately churn out music graduates are no better than fly-by-night, for-profit colleges (*cough* Trump University), that target students who otherwise could not make it into any other school, who take out huge amounts of student loans to pay outlandish tuition, who’ll be saddled with hundreds of thousand dollars in debt for the rest of their lives, moving back with the parents .. especially if they get that dream job at the Met.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    A historic college for music performance that punched well above its weight. Many fine musicians did their undergrad degrees there and then went on to grad programs and professional careers. Sad to see,

  • Byron Peters says:

    They are facing a serious financial challenge and are cutting many programs and many faculty, including tenured positions. So, they were founded as a music school. Big whoop. Things change. There are plenty of other options across the United States and world for people to study music seriously. A problem with higher education is that people think it is there to employ faculty. It’s like any business, when there is a downturn in revenues and an upturn in expenses, things need to be cut.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      We all know that American colleges are not there to employ faculty.

      They are there to employ bloated administrators who are paid to push paper and make life hard for the adjunct instructors who are paid minimum wages.

      • Walter Smith says:

        Oh, the old saw of the poor adjunct. Maybe part time faculty shouldn’t have assumed that there would be jobs for them just because they went and got a doctorate. Adjuncts aren’t paid minimum wage at any institutions in the US. That’s a ruse. The problem is the adjuncts just cannot get enough work and/or a tenured position. So, it’s always that the administration salaries are the problem. If you will look at any institution’s budget, you will see that majority of the budget goes to paying for instruction.

  • PE says:

    The original post is pretty short on context and is reporting the graduate course changes in music alongside statistics related to the broader changes at Ithaca College.

    I suggest that this link to the news site offers a more comprehensive view of the changes they are making (

    The impact on the music school is sad; it refers to the elimination of 5 Masters degree level programs (as mentioned in the original post). It does not however appear to impact the undergraduate music program as directly. It’s noteworthy that as an institution, Ithaca has less than 10% graduate students – its predominantly an undergraduate-focused school.

    There seem to be much more pervasive impacts on other academic offerings than music.

  • Joseph Olefirowicz says:

    The entire Graduate School of Music is being slashed. Not just a few majors. It is an absolute tragedy and will disrupt the inner workings of the Music school for the undergraduate students in ways which the Administration is completely tone deaf.

  • Sharon says:

    For those who are saying that one should get another career and do music on the side–If Ithaca College has a large major and graduate program in music EDUCATION that is exactly what they were doing. New York State requires all licensed teachers in primary schools and high schools to obtain a masters degree within 5 yeas of getting their undergraduate degree in pedagogy (education).
    Thus the student of music education is studying for degrees, undergraduate and graduate, in pedagogy which would license him/her to be a full time teacher of young people with a specialty in music.

  • As many have pointed out already, this post is lacking any context within the changes taking place at IC… This comment won’t provide all the nuance required, but:

    – While the discontinuation of these programs is indeed heartbreaking, the School of Music will continue offering degrees that give undergrad students an immense foundation in faculty-led courses. The statement that IC is “… taking an axe to its music teaching” is factually inaccurate. Grad students undoubtedly bring an immense extracurricular benefit to all undergrads, but only currently teach methods courses to BM Music Education majors, as well as courses for non-music majors.
    – We will still be bringing in an incoming class in all of the MM degrees listed for Fall 2021. I remain hopeful (perhaps foolishly so) that we may yet still have an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of these degrees to the administration.
    – The broader cuts taking place across the college are caused by a broader issue relating to a spike in enrollment in 08/09 during the financial crisis that caused a rise in faculty lines to keep up. After this spike softened, the institution never balanced the size of its faculty, creating a disproportionate teaching force. The team proposing the broader changes includes explicit steps to take at the institutional level to avoid this kind of broad, sweeping action going forward.

    I invite all who are interested to read the full recommendations document from the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee (APPIC) for broader context on the above:

  • Sam Carter says:

    There are a whole bunch of other programs in NYS where someone can get a degree in music education, including SUNY, CUNY, NYU, Columbia/Teachers College…and many more.