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ERIC Identifier: ED292485
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Brawer, Florence B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.

Community College Students in the Fine and Performing Arts. ERIC Digest.

The fine and performing arts have long been a part of the two-year college curriculum. More than half a century ago, Eells (1931) analyzed the catalogs of a national sample of 279 junior colleges and noted that 45% offered courses in art, including both art appreciation and studio art, and 57% offered music courses, including voice, harmony, history, and instrumental performance. A few years later, Colvert (1937) conducted a similar analysis and found 49% offering courses in art and 62% offering courses in music.

Later literature has focused on the limited visibility of the fine arts within the colleges' organizational structures, bringing into question the degree to which the arts have been accorded institutional acceptance. The Music Educators National Conference (1970) reported that only 19% of the nation's two-year colleges had separate music departments and that 50% had only one or two music instructors. As for drama, Marine (1974) argued that most theater faculty were usually subsumed (and hence lost) within English and speech departments.

The literature also suggests that the arts have been employed at community colleges for a variety of purposes. Buckner (1979) surveyed administrators responsible for fine arts programs at 40 urban community colleges, requesting information on the extent to which the arts played various roles in the curriculum. Responses from 30 colleges indicated:

* 21 of the 30 colleges offered an associate degree in the arts and

6 had developed certificate programs.

* 19 of the colleges indicated that their arts curricula were geared

primarily for students who wanted to further their study of the

arts at four-year colleges, but only 7 colleges reported that more

than 50% of their students went on to four-year institutions.

* Half of the colleges indicated that all credits earned in their arts

courses were transferable to local state colleges, while the other

half indicated that most, but not all, credits were transferable.

* 14 colleges reported that they offered "occupational arts" programs,

including commercial art and art-related business education.

However, the existing literature has contributed little to our understanding of the people who enroll in fine and performing arts classes. Who are the students who attend college in order to further their interests in the arts? What distinguishes the academically oriented students from those who are attending for personal interest? What are their goals? Is age a factor?

In order to answer these and other questions, the Center for the Study of Community Colleges (1987), under a grant from the Ford Foundation, surveyed 1,287 students in 78 colleges in spring 1987. Those students were enrolled in a random sample of 108 advanced classes in studio and commercial art, music performance, dance performance, and theater and film.

Study findings, based on responses from 1,079 students, included the following:

* half of the arts students were aged 21 or younger

* the modal age of the students was 19 years

* 38% were employed for more than 20 hours per week,

while 31% were not employed at all

* 7.1% of the responding students were Hispanic,

4.0% were Black, and 3.3% were Asian.

When asked to indicate their most important reason for attending "this college at this time," students responded:

"To prepare for transfer (52%)

"To gain skills necessary to enter a new occupation" (18%)

or "remain current/advance in a current occupation" (7%)

"To satisfy a personal interest" (22%)

Their most important reasons for attending their particular college was that it was close to home.

In comparison with a national sample of students taking all types of community college courses in 1986, the arts students differed notably in a number of respects. The arts students were:

* younger

* more likely to be in college to prepare for transfer or

for their own personal interest

* considerably less likely to be Black

* more likely to indicate that their experiences while

attending college had affected them positively.

Among the students taking advanced arts classes, 29% were majoring in art, 18% in music, 6% in theater, and 3% in dance. Though significantly fewer students planned to continue to major in the arts after transfer (16% in art and 12% in music), many were optimistic about their future involvement in the arts. Although only a small percentage of students had been involved professionally with the arts before college, with most participating only as a hobby, 38% expected that they would be pursuing a career in the arts and deriving a significant proportion of their income therefrom within five years.

Of the students who expected to make a career in an art field after completing their education:

o Over 50% were preparing to transfer to a four-year college or

university and 19% were planning to attend a specialized

institute or conservatory.

o Many came to the community college because of a particular

program, e.g., the studio arts program.

o 50% rated their abilities to understand art, classical music, and

drama as excellent; 33% rated their ability to perform in dance,

music, film, or theater/drama production as excellent; and 50

%rated their ability to create artistic works as excellent.

o Prior to enrolling in college, 20% had occasionally sold art

works, 5% each had performed as professional dancers in theater

or film, and 15% had performed music professionally.

o 49% reported it highly probable that they would be majoring in the


o 66% felt it highly probable that they would be selling work or

performing as professionals five years hence, while 39% suggested

that their involvement in the arts would be as a hobby, 26% said

they would participate as amateurs, and 36% thought they would be

taking private lessons or classes.

The over-35-year-old age cohort, which comprised 20% of the total group of respondents, was also an interesting and, in some ways, distinctive subgroup.

In comparison to the under 22 and 22-to-34 year old age

groups, more of the 35+ students were not currently employed

(41%), were attending college to satisfy personal interests (46%),

and were entering college because of a studio arts program (35%).

Many in this group tended to have been involved in the arts before

entering college, occasionally selling work or performing as

professionals (22%), or participating as a hobby (47%).

Among the 35+ age cohort, 48% reported a high probability that five

years hence, they would be participating in art as a hobby, but only

26% felt that there was a high probability that they would be

pursuing art as a career (compared to 39% of the under 22 year

old group and 44% of the 22- to -34 year old group).

Over half of these 35+ students were attending colleges in the


The two subgroups of arts students--those who plan to pursue a career in the arts and those over 35 years of age--in some ways appeared to be contrasting groups. One was dedicated to arts careers and more intense in their involvement, while the other was pursuing personal interests. Yet both groups, despite their different characteristics, educational objectives, and aspirations, were served by the same community college arts courses.

These findings demonstrate that new measures of institutional functioning are needed to differentiate curriculum content from student intent. The contemporary community college cannot be understood without disaggregating the two.


Buckner, R.T. National Community College Urban Arts Survey Based on the Cuyahoga Community College Metropolitan Campus Urban Arts Survey. Cleveland, Ohio: Cuyahoga Community College, 1979. 47 pp. (ED 197 780)

Center for the Study of Community Colleges. Arts Education in American Community Colleges. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1987. 78 pp. (ED 284 643)

Colvert, C.C. A Critical Analysis of the Public Junior College Curriculum. Abstract of Contributions to Education No. 199. Nashville: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1937. Eells, W.C. The Junior College. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931.

Marine, D. "The Community College Theatre Department: An Administrative Point of Reference." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, Chicago, Illinois, December 1974. 7 pp. (ED 101 385)

Music Educators National Conference. Music in the Junior College. Washington, D.C.: Music Educators National Conference, Committee on Music in Junior Colleges, 1970. 57 pp. (ED 042 437)


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