River Campus Boosting Enrollment in the Arts at Southeast

Photo of students at the Southeast River Campus

Southeast Missouri State University has announced a record enrollment this fall, and the University’s new River Campus has played a significant role.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Aug. 21, 2007 – Southeast Missouri State University has announced a record enrollment this fall, and the University’s new River Campus has played a significant role.

Students majoring in music, art, theatre and dance have been on the rise in recent years as they have anxiously awaited the opening of Southeast’s new arts campus, which brings together the University’s arts disciplines into one location. Dr. Gary Miller, director of the Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts, says the departments of music, art, and theatre and dance have all opened extra sections of courses for their majors and in-service courses this fall due to growing enrollment.

“Students and their parents are excited about coming to the River Campus,” said Dr. Pat Reagan, chair of the Department of Art.

She says the Department of Art has seen consistent increases of six to nine students a year for about the past seven years. That trend will continue this year, she says, with the department expecting between 205 and 215 art majors.  Reagan says most of the department’s incoming freshmen in art have scholarships. The Department of Art also will welcome three new faculty members this fall, she said.

Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, says his department expects to have between 105 and 110 theatre and dance majors this fall. That’s up from 17 theatre and dance majors in 2001 and 100 last year.

“Our enrollment has been on the rise over the last six years,” he said. “We’ve increased our enrollment by 500 percent. This year, we’ve had a record recruiting year. We’ve had a record recruiting year for six consecutive years.”

Stilson says the River Campus is most certainly a recruitment tool for attracting theatre and dance majors to Southeast, but he points to the quality of programs being offered as the deciding factor for students.

“We have reinvented ourselves” over the past six years, he says. “We went from being an extracurricular activity to a pre-professional program. We have tried to create a program that would rival any program in the Midwest, and our curriculum has really reflected that.”

Stilson says the revitalization of the program began with a complete revamping of the program.

“There is not one class that existed in the 1990s that exists today,” he said. “It has been almost a 100 percent categorical change. We started from scratch. We started with a blank piece of paper” and rewrote the curriculum.  

Students may now pursue a bachelor of fine arts in performing arts or a bachelor of arts in theatre. Options are available in design/tech, dance and theatre performance, and students may pursue minors in dance, technical theatre, theater arts, and theatre performance.

The number of faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance also has been expanded from three to nine over the past six years, and talent-based Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts scholarships have been developed to attract high quality students to the program.

Stilson says prospective students look at the quality of programs and productions, available scholarships, the success of current students and facilities when making their college choice. It is the combination of these factors, Stilson stresses, but he acknowledges that River Campus is a strong calling card when recruiting students.

“They are thrilled about it,” he said. “They are salivating over it. It is the icing on the cake. And some people like the icing best.”

The Department of Theatre and Dance also will be sharing River Campus facilities with the Department of Music, along with the Department of Art.

“There is a tremendous energy created when artists get together,” said Dr. Chris Goeke, chair of Southeast’s Department of Music.

Goeke says the Department of Music is expecting between 115 and 120 music majors this fall. That’s up from 103 music majors in 2006-2007.

“Conservatively, we will be up about 10 percent,” he said.

Goeke says the strength of Southeast’s music programs is rooted in its quality faculty.

“I cannot say enough about the high standards and the professional capabilities of our faculty,” he said.

Goeke added that the Department of Music is fortunate to be large enough to offer outstanding  programs, but small enough that students can get specialized attention.

“Every one of our students gets one-on-one attention at least once a week with a faculty member,” Goeke said. “I think this makes us unique.”

He says enrollment in music programs across the country is a difficult sell.

“Music, in general, is a tough field,” he said, particularly because of low salaries in the profession.

Goeke says Southeast is primarily a training ground for future music teachers. He says music is one of the toughest programs on campus, particularly because of the demanding courses required of students during their freshman year.

“You’ve got to really want to be in music, whether it be in performance or education,” he said. “If we’re able to attract students in that environment, we must be doing something right.

“It’s dog eat dog out there for the best students,” he said, acknowledging that the addition of scholarships, particularly for members of the Golden Eagles Marching Band, has helped in stepping up their enrollment.

This year, the Golden Eagles Marching Band will have 158 members, up from just 72 last year.

“This is probably the biggest thing that has happened to our band program ever,” said Barry Bernhardt, director of University Bands at Southeast.

In January, Bernhardt announced the new marching band scholarship program.

“Barry worked really hard at getting the word out,” Goeke said. “That increase is just phenomenal.”

Under the marching band scholarship program that begins this fall, all first-year members of the band will receive a $500 stipend. Second-year members will receive a $650 stipend. Third-year members will receive a $750 stipend, and fourth-year members will receive a $1,000 stipend. Students wishing to join the Golden Eagles who also have participated as members of any all-state band, orchestra or choir are eligible to receive a $1,000 stipend per year. All-state musicians must perform with the Golden Eagles Marching Band during the fall semester and in a Department of Music ensemble during the spring semester.

As a result of the influx in marching band members, the Department of Music has purchased more equipment for use by the band. Goeke says the band’s percussion pit had about eight members last year. This year, the percussion pit has 28.

Like Stilson, Goeke acknowledges that the new River Campus is proving to be a significant recruitment tool.

“There will be much more of a ‘wow’ factor now that they can see the facilities,” Goeke said.

He says every student who has set foot in the new River Campus facilities is excited.

In the past, “we’ve been able to deliver a quality program in a very bare bones facility,” Goeke said, referring to Brandt Hall of Music. “This (River Campus) is much more of a real music facility.”

He suggests the quality of facilities available at River Campus will entice students to perform at an even higher level.

“Unconsciously, it gives you more of a feeling of stepping up to perform,” he said. “There’s going to be a huge facility factor when students start to perform in these surroundings.”