UCC performing arts programs looking to innovate community relations in responds to concerns over program enrollment and funding
Performing arts leaders at UCC are assessing innovative ways to sustain the theatre and music programs and increase enrollment.
Earlier this year, UCC and the local arts community felt panic at the release of information suggesting possible drastic changes and cuts to these performing arts programs. The Board of Education responded with a resolution to the arts issued earlier in the April 14 board meeting.
“We are delighted to see the board’s response,” Director and Associate Professor of Music Jason Heald said in response to the resolution. “The community has invested a lot in the college, and it’s great that the board sees the need for the college to give back to the community. It’s been great to see both the community and board support the music program and our community activities in the performing arts.”
Isadora Trinkle, a Douglas County elementary school music teacher and performer, also said the local arts community understands UCC leadership’s concerns about funding and enrollment, but they do not want to see programs falter: “It is difficult because I’ve seen a lot of arts programs do the death spiral. They don’t start with cutting your program. They start with cutting your hours, and then you have fewer students in your classes, and then you don’t have as much money. … I think everybody who is in academics and the music world knows what that looks like, and we are very quick to jump in at the beginning of that because you know how hard it is to pull it back from the edge. If it starts with cutting hours, and then everyone comes back with a strong ‘no,’ then I think that is a really good sign.”
Many in the arts community, like Trinkle, are relieved at the idea of support from UCC’s Board, but they still want to ensure they are heard.
UCC President Debra Thatcher has announced two taskforces working to address how to improve enrollment in these programs and how to manage community involvement in UCC performing arts groups. Although the possible threats to the program have been upsetting and confusing for many, the directors of these programs prefer to discuss the future of these programs rather than the drama surrounding possible cuts.
Heald, who leads the music program taskforce, is excited about the brainstorming sessions coming out of the taskforce meetings over the past months.
“The real goal of the music taskforce is to help grow and enhance the music program. I don’t think the message is to ‘save’ the music program,” said Heald in a phone interview.
The music transfer program will still be available in the fall.
The first step in this process for Heald was reviewing enrollment statistics for music students since some students who take music classes do not specifically declare themselves as music majors in their associates’ programs.
In practice, students –both music students and others– enroll in courses to prepare them for careers in their chosen fields or to help them transfer into the state’s many various degree programs. Sometimes, they take courses for career exploration or personal development. In that process, they do not necessarily declare majors or exactly follow UCC degree pathways. Confusion therefore can exist as to the number of students who need these classes, even when courses have multiple students in them. The college appears to want more information about how many declared majors require a class when deciding on course offerings.
Students in the music program take three required co-requisite classes each term over the two years. According to Heald, the enrollment in this cohort itself is the actual transfer requirement for entering a four-year institution as a junior in a music program. These students often simply register as AA/OT without declaring music as their major.
For example, the 12 students in The Umpqua Singers music group have been required to be enrolled in this cohort for the past 15 years, and according to Heald, in the last three years, 23 students from the music cohort have successfully transferred and are currently in university music programs.
“We are all very proud of track record as a transfer program,” said Heald. “We have a great reputation statewide.”
Heald and the rest of the taskforce hope that this situation will simply need to be communicated more efficiently.
The taskforce wants to improve communication with high school students in the area to increase enrollment. This largely looks at how the program uses social media and other mediums of messaging like posters or newsletters.
“Our success, and the success of our students, is impeccable,” Heald said. “We have lots of performance opportunities for incoming music students. We are one of the only community colleges that I know of that has groups that perform internationally and that tour.”
A resulting increase in enrollment is also helpful to the college at large, which is suffering from decreased enrollment like other institutions due to the pandemic. The program typically sees a drop in students after the first year, but Heald reasons that this is normal and similar to other programs like Spanish in that the number of majors does not accurately indicate class enrollment.
“It is a two-year sequential program,” Heald said. “The problem with a two-year sequential program is that you are always going to have more people in term one than you do in term six.”
“With general education classes, we are not increasing enrollment. We are just taking students from other departments. No one is coming here just to take these classes. We are just servicing students who are already in the door. As opposed to the music classes, we are actually recruiting students who would otherwise not come to UCC,” Heald said.
Heald said that he has already worked to design the popular general education music classes like the History of Rock and Roll course to offset the enrollment drops in the second term.
“In order to get 12 people to the end of the cohort, I would need to have 36 majors coming in the door,” Heald said. “Until we have housing or something, that is not going to happen. So, we pulled some of the caps off of our general education classes. This year, we had 40 to 70 people in those classes just to offset that second-year low enrollment.”
Meanwhile, Christina Allaback, the director and associate professor of theatre and the chair of UCC’s theatre program taskforce, is evaluating new strategies to improve the theatre program. The other members of the taskforce are a student representative, Nakaela Hunt, a UCC alumna representative, Jesika Barnes, local arts community members, including Melody Schwegel, the executive director of UACT, and three local high school theatre teachers from Roseburg, Sutherlin and South Umpqua high schools.
The taskforce has discussed the primary goals and needs of the program, the community needs and desires for the program, possible academic interest in UCC theatre programs, upcoming production options and potential recruitment events and strategies.
“I had a big plan for last spring. I was going to go into the schools and do workshops. We were going to do the Oregon One Act Festival where high schools compete with ‘one acts,’” Allaback said. “Then, I was going to do a high school weeklong intensive course almost like a day camp. But, that all got cancelled. I would like to bring those back if the campus opens next year, and I think it will.”
The taskforce’s current focus is increasing interaction with the community to build excitement and knowledge about the program, which in turn will hopefully generate enrollment, according to Allaback.
Christina Maroney, a theater teacher from Roseburg High School and a member of the taskforce, suggested a new event: 48-hour play festivals, said Allaback. Students would write, direct and put on a play in 48 hours.
“It is hard. It is a lot of work to keep the arts going sometimes, and there are a lot of fights that have to be made. … I am going to work my hardest,” Allaback said. “There are a lot of things to juggle: recruitment, retention, community support, donations.”
Allaback said that UCC is not the only institution affected by this; in fact, she said that she speaks about the arts community as a whole.
“There is a big arts crisis in this country right now, and it is the result of a lot of different things, and it is a very complicated issue,” Allaback said. “There was already an issue with funding. We will see how many organizations survive COVID or not.”
Allaback has seen a decrease in arts funding since the 1990s.
“It is such a complicated problem because it all starts with arts education,” Allaback said. Some smaller areas across the country have lost funding, meaning that new generations have never been exposed to the arts. “When there is no arts education, we lose arts supporters and arts funders and artists.”
Even with these issues of funding and concerns over the program at UCC, Allaback said that her 38 years working in theatre have prepared her for situations like this.
“I have been working on shoestring budgets my entire life,” Allaback said. She has worked with various-sized companies in metropolitan arts areas like Chicago and in smaller areas like here in Douglas County. She said she lives by the words of Lope de Vega, a Spanish Golden age playwright, that all you need are four boards and a passion to create a play. “You don’t need money to make good theatre. … If you make a good product, people will come.”
That audience support is really the main goal of the taskforces; they want both potential students and community supporters to know and appreciate what UCC has to offer in the performing arts. She also wants to focus on marketing the program to future students as more than just an arts program. Allaback hopes to market the practical work experiences of theatre such as meeting deadlines, sticking to budgets and managing personnel as well as the soft skills like project creation and overcoming stage fright in what she calls “human skills disguised as theatre,” according to the taskforce’s minutes from their May 3 meeting.
“You are your work; you are not necessarily your major. If you can market yourself, you can get any job,” Allaback said.
Both directors stressed that because of the size of UCC’s programs, they are hoping to entice new students with greater opportunities to perform as soloists in music or in starring roles in theater. University programs are so competitive that fewer students ever get the chance to perform.
“Both Christina and I have taught at four-year universities. Neither of us take a back seat to larger colleges,” Heald said. “When we present at conferences, national or international, we are side-by-side with ivy league professors and everyone else. Community college should be an affordable education, not a cheap education.”
Allaback, who has taught at both community colleges and universities across the U.S., said, “The nice thing about a community college is that teachers know your name. They are a lot more focused on teaching than their research. It is not lesser than just because it doesn’t cost as much.”
The community college level often acts as a bridge to connect artists and performers to professional opportunities later on.
“Especially for community colleges, the place between high school and a full-on university, a lot of people need that really badly,” Trinkle said. “The idea that they would cut off part of that link and not pass on students and knowledge to the university level is hard. That is the pipeline. That is how we get people; that is how we get professionals.”
In the end, both Allaback and Heald hope their passion will entice new students.
“At the end of the day, I am a performer and a composer as well as a teacher and not the other way around, being a teacher that has to do music,” Heald said. “If the students hang out with me, they might learn something. If you can instill the student with a passion, they will learn.”
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