The Road to Success is Paved with…. SCHOLARSHIPS!

It may be true that talent creates its own opportunities. But just as fundamentally, when opportunity is provided to the talented, success is not far behind.

In the performing arts, opportunity comes in many guises—from getting that first big break to meeting someone influential in the field, to simply being in the right place at the right time. But nothing is more important than getting the chance to study with exceptional teachers in an ideal learning environment among inspirational peers. Attending a great college or university is invaluable.

For those who achieve it, the opportunity to study at U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance provides that critical step that leads to a successful career. The School’s alumni roster proves that point many times over, with SMTD graduates enjoying celebrated careers across the spectrum of performing arts disciplines.

But for many, being accepted to the School is only the first step; the second is finding a way to afford it. That’s where scholarships come in, providing the crucial link that makes the dream of studying at SMTD—and the success that comes after—a reality. In these pages, we are delighted to showcase a small sample of former SMTD scholarship recipients who have gone on to celebrated careers in their fields.

Scholarships Now

Guaranteeing that a diverse group of the world’s brightest and most talented students are able to study at SMTD is the School’s highest priority. Providing financial support to students in need is the key to achieving this goal.

A vibrant scholarship endowment ensures that the most deserving students can attend their school of choice for a performing arts education, regardless of economic circumstances. Scholarships are essential to recruiting the top candidates in every performing arts field and helping these future arts leaders launch their careers without the burden of excessive student loan debt, allowing them to focus on their artistic or academic goals.

“With the decline of public funding for education over the last 20 years, scholarship support has become even more crucial,” said Dean Christopher Kendall. “If we are to maintain our standing as one of the top performing arts schools in the country, we must be able to compete with our peer institutions to attract the most gifted students from all backgrounds and help them avoid the pitfalls of unsupportable debt after they graduate.”
The School of Music, Theatre & Dance dedicates a significant amount of its budget to scholarships. Additionally, the School receives institutional support to help meet financial need for in-state students. However, scholarship support from donors continues to make the critical difference in securing a degree from SMTD for a vast number of students.

Currently, approximately 40 percent of SMTD students receive some kind of scholarship support. Melody Racine, SMTD associate dean for academic affairs, who oversees the distribution of scholarships for undergraduate and MM music students, is hoping that the School can increase that number to 60 or 65 percent, to ensure that every student that needs help can get it.

Students applying to performing arts schools today are sometimes forced to make hard decisions. Though their first choice of school may have the exact faculty or program they are seeking, without the financial support of a generous scholarship they often have to settle for their second or even third choice.

Racine says that students today are, necessarily, savvier. “They look at their choices and assess what kind of debt they will accrue by the time they graduate,” she said. “They sometimes have to choose to walk away if they’re unable to secure the financial support they need to avoid that debt. They need to think like business people—the stakes are just too high.”

Currently, there is approximately $902 billion in outstanding student loans in the United States, with the average balance, for all age groups, at $24, 301.* Among the 37 million borrowers, 14 percent have missed at least one payment. Two out of five borrowers are delinquent in the first five years after entering repayment.**

With statistics like these very much on the front pages—and in the forefront of students’ and parents’ minds—it is not surprising that scholarships become the essential key to an affordable education. And for performing arts students in particular, they may be even more critical.

“The trajectory of a career in the arts tends to be unpredictable,” said Dean Kendall. “Graduating with an unsupportable burden of loans can constrain or derail creative or academic pursuits for employment that can pay down the debt. We need to send our aspiring artists and scholars out into the world with the ability to focus on their goals and fully utilize the excellent skills they’ve acquired at SMTD. Scholarships, when combined with tremendous talent and hard work, can literally create the future leaders in the performing arts.”

* Federal Reserve Bank of New York (data released March 13, 2013)
** Institute for Higher Education Policy (March 2011)