A large number of students recently received word that they would see their music fellowship funding decrease by at least 20 percent for the spring semester.
The cuts were made across the board and affected the funding that many students receive for participating in choir and band. Music department leadership said the department needed to make the cuts in order to stay within their fellowship budget following an over-commitment of funds to incoming freshmen.
The department normally offers 10-15% more in fellowships to entering freshmen than what it can actually afford, Cynthia Hukill, department head and associate professor of music, said. The department has done so every year since the fellowship system was put in place in 2011 and has never had a situation like this one before, Hukill said. The offers, Hukill said, are made under the assumption that not all of them will be accepted.
“Normally, we award over the budget, and we come out just fine, but this time we had a combination of an usually large freshmen class, a large continuing sophomore/junior/senior class and then none of those freshmen left and, normally, they do,” Hukill said.
Hukill said she could tell that there could be a problem with the fellowship funding by early fall, but by then, the funding was already committed. The funding is guaranteed only for the first semester of the offer and is re-awarded every semester based on ability of funds, Hukill said.
Music majors had their funding cut by 20 percent, while non-music majors, who often receive some funding for their participation in the university’s band and choir programs, saw their fellowships cut by “a little more,” Hukill said.
The final decision to cut funding was announced Jan. 24, which was the day after the university’s cutoff date for adding or dropping courses. Hukill said the add-drop date and the date of the announcement were not coordinated and that the department was just trying to make the smallest cuts possible.
“We did that because we needed to be a little bit in the semester to find out who was coming back and who was not, and the later we waited the more money we had for all the students and we were trying to make that percentage that we had to cut less,” Hukill said.
Hukill said she has been counseling students on a one-on-one basis to ensure that they won’t have to drop any classes. At her disposal are funds from the department as well as funds from university foundation accounts to help students who need it the most.
“To make up for that, I have been meeting individually with students, and we are going to make up for a lot of that money, most of it, especially if anybody is in financial need cause for some kids, it’s extra money; they don’t need that much, and it’s extra money just for extras, but for some of these students, it really pays for their school, and sometimes it pays for their food, you know,” Hukill said.
The department should be able to return music majors to their previous levels of funding in the fall 2017 semester, Hukill said.
Affected students have a variety of thoughts on the matter.
Kaleb Hatton, music major from Alma, found out via email Jan. 24 that his fellowship would be dropping from $1500 to $1200 this semester. Although surprised and disappointed by the cuts, Hatton said that he understood why the cuts were made.
“It did feel more like a guarantee is what kinda took me more by surprise, but they only have so much money. If it’s not there, it’s not there. They can’t just give away money like they’d like to. I know if they could pay for all of our colleges, they would. I feel very appreciated there,” Hatton said.
Nathan Stephens, electrical engineering major from Alma, said he received $1000 a semester for his participation in choir up until this semester when he found out it would be cut in half to $500. He said he didn’t think the funding would ever change.
“It never occurred to me that they would have this problem because that’s something the university should have figured out,” Stephens said. “I think it’s ridiculous and that’s something that’s on the university.”
However, Stephens said the decrease in funding in his case is manageable.
“I’m not upset about it because I don’t depend on it, but I know there are others that do depend on that money,” Stephens said.
Natosha Shirley is a nursing major from Dover. She was a music major before switching to the nursing program. Although she switched majors, she was still receiving the full $1500 that she received while she was a music major until this semester when her fellowship was cut to $500. Shirley said she dropped choir due to the decrease in funding.
Balancing nursing coursework and choir activities was difficult, and Shirley concluded with the recent cuts that “just financially that was the best option for me.”
“I’ve been in choir since third grade, so it was really hard for me,” Shirley said.