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The Art of Scholarships: Not Just for Athletes Anymore

Higher education today can be expensive. According to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, 66% of all undergraduate students across the country receive some form of financial aid. During the 2011 fiscal year at SIUE, 83% - nearly 11,700 students - received financial aid to help pay for their educations.

SIUE offers quality higher education at an affordable cost, and scholarships play an important role in attracting and retaining top-notch students. This is especially true in the arts, where aptitudes cannot be measured by standard college admission exams. The performing arts is one area in which the strength of the ensemble or production depends on the quality of the individuals. Thus scholarships play a vital role not only in attracting first-rate students, but also in keeping the entire program robust.

"Scholarships in music are equivalent to scholarships in athletics," said Audrey Tallant, chair of SIUE's Department of Music. "The more money you have to offer, the better your chances are at attracting the best students from around the country and world."

And she does mean around the world. Current and recent international students hail from Brazil, Finland, Taiwan and South Korea, and the department's enrollment is around 130 undergraduate students and 35 graduate students.

"We are at a great disadvantage because we do not offer 'full rides' to talented students - or even half rides," Tallant said. "We certainly have excellent faculty who attract high-quality students, but we lose many good students to other programs because of the lack of scholarship offerings. We had 92 students audition last year, and only 2.5 tuition waivers to offer to incoming freshmen. I think that demonstrates the point."

Chris Spangler is a studio art major from Springfield, Ill., who is focusing on painting. He paid for his first two years of schooling at a community college by waiting tables, but is finding his university education a bit more difficult to finance. He took out his first student loans when he enrolled for classes at SIUE in spring 2010. Since then, he has received the Phi Kappa Phi scholarship and a Provost's Fine Arts Scholarship at SIUE.

"The notification that I had been awarded these two scholarships was some of the most uplifting news I've had," Spangler said. "Times are tough, and independently financing one's education has become quite a struggle. Thanks to the scholarships, I will be able to graduate without having to borrow anything more than I did my first year here, leaving me with minimal debt. Scholarships have served as a huge relief for my own situation and funding my education."

Spangler also believes that scholarships in the arts benefit more than just the students who receive them.

"By alleviating the burden of keeping up with mounting expenses, students can focus their efforts on their studies and producing creative work, which will contribute positively to the public image for the student and the University."

Greg Conroy is the director of WSIE, SIUE's radio station, and has served as president of the University's Friends of Theater and Dance (FOTAD) organization for the past 11 years. As with the other "Friends" groups at SIUE, FOTAD raises funds to provide support for its affiliated department. He estimates that during his years as president, the organization has awarded around $75,000 in scholarships, awards and other student support.

"FOTAD has about $3,000 available each year for incoming freshmen who want to major in theater and dance," he said. "I believe it is an excellent tool for recruitment, although more would be even better."

Besides attracting students to the program, Conroy said, scholarships and awards could help maintain the high quality of a department. "The FOTAD merit awards given to qualifying existing majors encourage good grades and praise best practices," he said. Students qualify through performances, portfolio presentations or written papers and then are interviewed by FOTAD board members. "These awards are highly competitive and can be tough, but we feel it prepares them for the real world in a field that can have many ups and downs," Conroy added.

Similar Friends groups do similar work. The Friends of Art annually raise thousands of dollars from their Art Auction, and each year the Friends of Music contribute around $20,000 in scholarships for music majors.

"I've been familiar with several higher education theater programs over the past 30 years, and I have found that our students are some of the most talented I've ever seen," Conroy said.

Scholarships are welcome across all 19 departments within the College of Arts and Sciences, but are particularly vital in the fine and performing arts. Special scholarship assistance is needed in the following:

  • Music, Art & Design, Theater & Dance departments can raise the bar on the quality of artistic performance and exhibitions presented to the citizens of the region with an infusion of scholarship funding for recruitment and retention.
  • The Mass Communications program, one of only 120 in the nation accredited by the prestigious Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, needs scholarships to maintain the quality of this highly competitive and rapidly changing academic program.
  • Fellowships , a stipend of $15,000 per year (three semesters), will help recruit and retain one exceptional graduate student for a 12-month fellowship to assist in the classroom and laboratory, alongside outstanding faculty in the sciences, social sciences, communications, arts or humanities.

Find out how you can support student scholarships in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Back to the 2011 Dean's Report >>

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