January 10, 2020

President Hogle Delivers National Opera Association Keynote Address, Proposes Call to Action on the Future of Higher Education


Speaking fervently about the future of classical music education, CIM President and CEO Paul W. Hogle offered a call to action to attendees of the 2020 National Opera Association (NOA) conference, held January 9 at The Hilton in downtown Cleveland.

NOA, whose mission is to promote excellence in opera education and pedagogy through its support of a diverse community of opera instructors and professionals, invited Hogle to deliver their keynote address and share his perspectives on the 21st century practice of music in higher education.

Hogle noted a well-documented 15% decline in enrollment looming over the head of higher education this decade. During his talk, Hogle urged college and university leaders to begin having regular conversations – now – with their faculty, staff and trustees to understand the details and nuances around the issue. With the overall problem easily explained –a decline in domestic and international birthrates, changing demographics and stagnant high school graduation numbers – each organizational unit within the Academy will face different challenges that will require unique solutions, he said.

Referring to a study by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen – who predicts that this permanent reduction in the number of students seeking a college degree will cause up to 50% of schools in every tier to close or go bankrupt in the next decade – Hogle thinks it will hit liberal arts-sized educational institutions hard as “we are forced to compete with substantial private and public research schools with much deeper pockets and influence.” 

“For those of you wondering how an ‘enrollment cliff’ affects our music programs let me put it as clearly as possible: the dual threat of a declining number of students and schools fighting for their own existence will create a highly leveraged buyer’s market for students,” Hogle said. “It will also trigger irrational, short-term behavior by schools competing for those students.”

Hogle told the audience that after carefully studying the latest enrollment and tuition trends, listening to families and faculty during CIM’s recruitment and acceptance periods and consulting with colleagues at CIM and other independent conservatories, he believes the nation’s colleges and universities must chart a new course to get in front of this challenge.

The bottom line? Business as usual in American higher education cannot continue.

“A valid question when considering the future of our craft in the academy might be: ‘With the number of prospective students decreasing, and with unrelenting economic pressures coming from within our institutions as well as from families seeking larger and larger scholarships, how, then, will prospective students decide on a college?” Hogle asked. “Many believe the answer will be the quality of a school’s education and its real-time career outcomes.”

To keep up with the changing times, Hogle reminded the audience that there’s strength in numbers as they ponder the future and urged them not to ignore what’s coming.

“We are in a battle, the available weapons are specialization, tuition and graduate outcomes, and, if we are to be the engine of the artistic expression and research specialization we all value and celebrate, we must not apologize for becoming more focused, raising the standard, increasing our ability to scholarship through courageous philanthropy, obsessing about every expense and looking at our real-time graduate outcomes through the discerning lens of a prospective student,” Hogle said. “Volunteer for your regional accreditor or join a national membership organization. But don’t just step forward; be the force for good who makes sure critical thinking, analysis and outcomes related to our music programs headline at conferences, are featured in journals and magazines and are examined in real-time case studies.”

In concluding his remarks, Hogle left the gathering with a final thought from the words of Ayn Rand.

“‘Every man builds this world in his own image. He has the power to choose but no power to escape the necessity of choice.’

“Choose wisely.”