This Item In Trump’s Ed Budget Is A Sucker Punch To Nonprofit Performing Arts Orgs

Among the more beneficial student aid programs, one that flies under the radar is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The program cancels outstanding student debt for those who work for the government or nonprofits if they have been making on-time payments for 10 years. President Trump’s proposed budget wants to eliminate the program entirely.

This decision would impact both key stakeholders throughout the nonprofit performing arts field: arts administrators and artists.

Adaptistration Guy Trump BirdCurrently, if a musician is able to secure a position at a nonprofit professional orchestra, s/he can qualify for PSLF. Considering how much it costs to attend a major conservatory or school of music, that’s a big deal:

  • Juilliard School tuition: more than $41,000/year
  • Rice University tuition: more than $42,000/year
  • Northwestern University tuition: more than $50,000/year

That’s just tuition so when you add room and board, books, expenses, etc. that figure skyrockets.

Those looking to pursue a career in arts administration don’t fare any better.

  • American University’s Arts Management Master’s Program tuition: more than $44,000/year
  • Bolz Center for Arts Administration – Wisconsin School of Business nonresident tuition: more than $32,000/year

The Washington Post published an article by Emma Brown on 5/18/2017 that reports the proposed cut is designed in part to help fund expanding school choice voucher initiatives.

Even more interesting is the potential conflict in that the school choice program is a pet priority of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a long-time arts advocate who routinely donates large sums to nonprofit performing arts organizations. It would appear that in order to fund the school choice program, she would be willing to inflict very real harm on a field that already has difficulty attracting and retaining administrative talent.

Lower talent pools mean lower earned and unearned income which means wealthy donors like her would need to be willing to step up their contributions to fill those revenue holes.

It’s a fascinating, and sobering, conundrum.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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