From College to Career:
A SNAAP-Shot of the Career Landscape for Music Educators
By NAfME member Peter Miksza, with Lauren Hime
A career in music is personally and professionally rewarding, and it is well known that musicians contribute much to the artistic, cultural, and economic well-being of their communities[i]. Undoubtedly, a love of music, the potential for making a positive impact on the lives of others, and the promise of these aforementioned rewards are what drives us to pursue a career in music education and sustains us in the long run. However, there are obstacles that we all must negotiate when thinking of choosing a career in music education. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of being discouraged from pursuing a career in music by family members or mentors due to perceptions of limited career and financial opportunities. More ominously, the teaching profession and the value of a collegiate preparation have become regular points of contention and objects of derision in the news and media in general. As a result, students considering music education can find themselves with a deep sense of conflict over whether their passion is truly something they should pursue.
My colleague, Lauren Hime, and I conducted a study to shed light on these very issues as well as others[ii]. We investigated the employment status, job satisfaction, and financial status of music education program alumni using data from a nation-wide, multi-institutional survey of collegiate music program alumni conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP)[iii]. We analyzed responses from 348 music education program alumni who were currently working as K-12 music teachers. Here are a few of our most compelling findings:
Getting a Job
Of those who pursued a job, 93.6% of music education alums had a job in their field within one year of graduation and 77.2% indicated that the job was a very close or exact match to what they wanted.
Regarding their current work as a music educator, most alums reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of their job. They reported that intrinsic rewards such as doing work that reflects their interests and values, contributing to a greater good, and being creative were particularly satisfying.
Music Making While Teaching
Most music education alums (83%) reported remaining engaged in music making in their personal time, suggesting that continuing on as a both a teacher and a performer after college is quite common.
Student Loan Debt
More than a third of the alums (37.6%) reported no student loan debt at all. Of those that did leave school with debt, 38.5% incurred less than $30,000 in debt and 20.9% incurred $30,000 or more. These figure are quite consistent with national averages for student loan debt when considering all collegiate degree programs[iv].
The age range of the alums was 22 to 52 years old. For those under 30 years old, most (47.2%) reported incomes within a range of $20,001 and $40,000, followed closely by a substantial proportion reporting a range of $40,001 to $60,000 (30.7%). However, relatively few reported incomes less than (15.3%) or greater than that range (1.9%). For alums between 30 and 52 years old, most (46.5%) reported incomes within a range of $40,000 to $60,000, followed closely by substantial proportions reporting salaries within a ranges of $20,001 and $40,000 (21.1%) and $60,001 to $80,000 (15.5%). For this age group, relatively few reported making less than $20,000 (8.4%) or more than $80,001 (2.8%). It’s important to note that these figures represent a wide range of geographic locales with a wide range costs of living. In addition, some of the respondents to this survey could also be reporting salaries for part-time positions.
Although we believe these findings to be useful, we also wish to relay a few cautions to readers. It’s important to recognize that these data reflect self-reports from individuals aggregated across many schools and geographical areas and that the respondents were volunteers. Fortunately, there is evidence that despite being a volunteer sample, the participants in SNAAP surveys are representative of the broader population of alumni[v]. However, it’s possible that the volunteer nature of the respondents could contribute to bias in the data.
Overall, we believe our report paints an optimistic picture for those interested in pursuing music education as a career. It seems likely that most will find a job they want relatively quickly and be satisfied with the job they get. With regard to potential loan debt, the cost of a music education degree is roughly the same, on average, as any other degree and the typical salaries music teachers could expect to receive could provide a comfortable lifestyle for most places to live in the US. Furthermore, most will likely find it possible to continue to perform while also maintaining a teaching career. We hope that these findings serve to inform those interested in pursuing music education as a career as well as those currently working in the profession.
[i] See Americans for the Arts. (2013). Arts and economic prosperity IV. Washington, DC: Americans for the Arts. – and – Iyengar, S. 2013. NEA guide to the U.S. arts and cultural production satellite account. Washington DC: National Endowment for the Arts. Accessed August 13, 2015, at http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/nea_guide_white_paper.pdf.
[ii] A formal report of our work is published in the journal, Arts Education Policy Review. See Miksza, P. & Hime, L. (2015). Undergraduate music program alumni’s career path, retrospective institutional satisfaction, and financial status. Arts Education Policy Review, 116, 176-188. In the full report, w e present findings for these and other topics for alumni of music performance programs. In general, music education alums report being more financially stable (e.g., higher salary, less likely to be working multiple jobs) and more satisfied with their careers than music performance alums.
[iv] Woo, J. 2013. Degrees of debt: Student borrowing and loan repayment of Bachelor’s degree recipients 1 year after graduating: 1994, 2001, 2009. Stats in Brief. NCES ED-07-CO-0104. Washington, DC: NCES. Accessed August 13, 2015, at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014011.pdf.
[v] See the following article for a discussion of the representativeness of the SNAAP survey data: Lambert, A. D., and A. L. Miller. 2014. Lower response rates on alumni surveys might not mean lower response representativeness. Educational Research Quarterly, 37, 38–51.
About the authors:
NAfME member Peter Miksza is currently an associate professor of music education at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He is also an affiliate member of the Indiana University Cognitive Science Program. Peter’s primary research interests lie in the investigation of music practicing and music teacher preparation. He also conducts research with national data sets to address policy issues relevant to music education. Peter’s teaching duties include undergraduate and graduate courses with emphases on music teacher preparation, foundations of music pedagogy, psychological and social-psychological dimensions of music teaching and learning, measurement and evaluation, and quantitative research methods.
Lauren Hime is passionate about music teaching and enjoys reading and conducting research related to teaching practice and careers in music education. She is currently employed as the choir director at Randolph Middle School located on the Randolph Air Force Base in Universal City, Texas. Lauren received her master’s degree in music education from Trinity University in San Antonio in 2006. Over the past ten years she has enjoyed teaching music at the elementary, middle, and postsecondary levels. In her free time Lauren sings with the Bon Vivants, a jazz trio based in San Antonio.
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