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Yale Offers Free Tuition to Musicians


It has just gotten a little bit easier to make a career out of being a musician.

The Yale School of Music is going to start offering free Master's degrees to any musician good enough to be selected for the program. The school is able to do this, thanks to a $100 million endowment an anonymous donor recently set up.

Because the donation was unrestricted, administrators can use the money in any way they see fit, and Dean Thomas Duffy says he and his colleagues want to relieve the debt burden that so many students graduate with when they leave the Yale School of Music. "It is not uncommon for a student to leave here with a two-year Master's Degree and a burden of debt that is $20,000 to $40,000," he says. "This gift is going to make it possible for us to fully subsidize tuition, which this year was $23,750, so that students can consider an education at the Yale School of Music."

The fact that graduate students in the United States are going into debt to get their degrees is not, in and of itself, a cause of concern. Future doctors and lawyers, after all, regularly graduate with far more debt than anyone getting a Master's degree in Music. But Thomas Duffy says doctors and lawyers anticipate much larger salaries. "When one goes to medical school or gets an MBA (Master's in Business Administration), or goes to law school, the payback for that degree is going to be rather immediate and rather substantial," he notes. "Music students, not only do they get out of school and not have the same trajectory in the income world, but the capitalization requirements for music students are also significantly greater than those for folks in other disciplines. A student in our school of music might need to purchase a $50,000 to $100,000 violin before they walk in the door."

In fact, it is not unusual for musicians to abandon their careers in performance and go into administration - or perhaps leave the music field altogether - in an effort to pay off the debt they accumulated while they were students.

For that reason, Yale is now going to have a solid advantage over other music graduate schools when it comes to attracting the best students, according to Ellen Pfeifer of the New England Conservatory. She knows, because the New England Conservatory's undergraduate program has been competing for years with Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, which offers full scholarships to all of the students it accepts.

In spite of the competition, though, Ms. Pfeifer says everyone working in the field of music education is excited when a school receives a donation like the one given to Yale. "I was thrilled for Yale students, and hurray for those funders who gave the money - the anonymous donors," she says. "All these music students, whether they're at Yale, or New England Conservatory, or anywhere else, are so incredibly gifted, and they are so hard-working, and they all deserve a full-ride (i.e. free tuition). Obviously, not every school can do that."

But perhaps in the future, more schools will be able to do that, says Thomas Duffy of the Yale School of Music. "What I'm hoping is that the competition will come out in the area of other donors," he says. "I'm waiting for the first call from a colleague - a dean of a school of music - that says, 'You know, having heard of the Yale donation, one of our alums decided we needed to be out in front in a leadership position as well, and they have given us a substantial amount of money.'"

Dean Duffy says he also hopes that sense of competition will have an impact on potential Yale donors who are interested in other areas, such as art and theater. He says those professions - much like music - can be expensive to get into, and they do not guarantee a high-income return.

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