“I’ve never seen the class that empty”, said Rachel Byrnes, Cypress College Music Major completing her tenth and final semester. “I remember when Concert Choir had at the least sixty students a semester. There are I think less than twenty of us now.”
It isn’t just Concert Choir. Across the Fine Arts Department, instructors are seeing fewer students enrolling in their classes. Dr. Joyce Carrigan, dean of the Cypress College Fine Arts Department, has said there is “a larger list of undersubscribed sections than usual” and an overall “slower enrollment in the fine arts.” Eight classes have already been cancelled, including Dance Teaching Methodology and Intermediate Guitar. A handful of classes are one student drop away from possible cancellation.
The fine arts department is not taking any of this lying down. Instructors have “email blasted” former students, encouraging them to move on to more rigorous classes. For example, asking a former Music Fundamentals student to enroll in Music Reading. In addition, Carrigan said the department has been “asking our counselors to push some of our more under-enrolled classes.”
Mark Peterson, the Cypress College Music Program’s accompanist, has, together with Dance Professor Maha Afra and her students, improvised a series of dance shows with piano accompaniment in the Fine Arts Lobby all last week to attract student attention to the fine arts. In addition, tables staffed with instructors and heavy with various class syllabi sit on either side of the Fine Art Department’s first floor entrance.
One possible explanation why students are not enrolling in fine arts may simply be the cost. Not only are students expected to pay for the class units, but also for the necessary art materials. Clay for a ceramics class, for example, costs $20.
“Unfortunately, some of the materials are required,” Carrigan said. “But in fairness, students spend hundreds of dollars on a textbook in their other classes. Here, instead of a textbook, you are using materials. The materials are your textbooks. And when instructors are designing a course, they are always very sensitive to the cost.”
Another reason may be that most Cypress College students are not well acquainted with the arts. The deep budget cuts in Education following the 2008 Recession left some schools unable to adequately represent the arts. Homeroom, “the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education”, said of recent findings in a nationwide survey on art education in U.S. Public Schools, “Most troubling is an ‘equity gap’ between the availability of arts instruction as well as the richness of course offerings for students in low-poverty schools compared to those in high-poverty schools, leading students who are economically disadvantaged to not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students.”
As Carrigan said, “If students come from high schools with a lack of exposure in the arts, it diminishes their interest in the arts when they get here.”
Fortunately, some students do find their way into the arts. Justin Baker, a computer science major, works part time as a teacher’s aide. “I joined 2-D Design for the art credit. The class was so fun I ended up enrolling in other art classes; ceramics, Computer Illustrations, Contemporary Art Studio, Media Art Design. The arts I found let me express myself. The art professors here give you the freedom to do your own thing, to find yourself in the art, so to speak.”
Or as Byrnes said, “I’ve been here five years. Great professors, great community of students. Fun, exciting classes. You get to show your artistic side in a judgment free-zone. If you’re interested in music or the arts, Cypress College is the place. We need brass players!”
Featured photo: A class canceled sheet is posted in front of a classroom in the Humanities building. Photo by Robert Mercer.