It has been a rough couple of years for a lot of people in secondary education, with one headline after another announcing simultaneous class closures and fee hikes at state-run systems, cutbacks at community colleges, stricter entry requirements and higher tuition/costs at many private universities, and a looming student debt crisis that some are predicting will match the bad-mortgage-fueled meltdown of the past five years. Earlier this year, the Atlantic Monthly ran a story titled “Is College Worth It?”
It’s a problem facing many professions and trades across the country. There are predictions that within a few decades, the U.S. won’t have enough doctors, and that we are already facing a severe shortage of high-level engineers to fuel the next round of innovation in biotech, nanotech or even transportation. When you couple these trends (and headlines) with the dire job market that millennials keep reading about every day, it’s no surprise that educators are scrambling to adapt.
Over the past 15 years, there has been a huge increase in the number of U.S. recording schools, from community colleges in California expanding their facilities through county bond measures, to for-profit programs that grew rapidly, though not exclusively, on the backs of federal financial aid that flowed freely until the crash of 2008. With more schools wooing more students in a market with little job growth, and an overall economy in free-fall, a downturn was bound to happen. It’s no secret that many recording schools are now being challenged by declining enrollment; many are meeting those challenges head-on by expanding into new markets, while others are establishing online programs. Still others are committing to brand-new facilities, most notably Berklee, which has put up tens of millions of dollars to build a new school in Valencia, Spain, and completely overhaul its recording facilities/dorm space in downtown Boston.
Being that the audio industry is based on a trade, or a craft, there have always been lots of options to learn. Even as more and more recording schools opened, the trend toward alternate educational paths, many of them studio- or mentor-based, has expanded. Sheffield Audio Video has been doing it well for a long time in D.C.-Maryland with its Institute. Recording Connection launched a model a few years back that links individual recording studios with potential students. Bruce Swedien began hosting weeklong workshops in his Ocala, Fla., home studio. Ryan Hewitt recently debuted a series of weekend master classes under the moniker Studio Prodigy. Mix With the Masters hosts a series of weeklong seminars in France featuring top U.S. engineers. And The Blackbird Academy, featured on this month’s cover, is attempting to take the concept to a whole new level.
Some, not all, of the big schools will bounce back. And the state schools and private schools will soldier on. Education has become a big, big business, prone to economic cycles same as other industries.
Still, it’s nice to know that there are alternatives. And that our industry still values a mentor.