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McNally Smith President Harry Chalmiers Weighs in on Controversies about For-Profit Colleges

Harry Chalmiers

McNally Smith College of Music President Harry Chalmiers

“The avalanche of bad publicity about for-profit colleges in the past year could cloud the planning of any serious college-bound student. Intense — and often well-deserved scrutiny — of for-profit colleges in the U.S. has exposed a menu of problematic issues. They range from deceptive recruiting and marketing practices to questionable graduation rates, deep debt accumulation and indignation about the real job training opportunities that for-profit colleges purport to provide, otherwise known as ROI (return on investment). Add in the arguably rare but undeniably obscene compensation of select chief officers leading online and offline for-profit colleges and you have a perfect storm brewing. Or do you?”

Those opening lines in the June 3, 2011 pages of the Star Tribune’s Op Ed section highlight the ongoing controversies about for-profit colleges that have been making headlines most of the spring. They are also from the pen of McNally Smith College President, Harry Chalmiers, who presents a reasonable argument that many for-profit colleges are a viable college alternative for students and parents — especially those that are mission-driven, like this music college.

Chalmiers’ opinion piece could not have been timelier. While local and national media from coast to coast have been reporting on this topic for months, the June 3 front page news story in the Star Tribune looks at the reaction in Washington where federal regulators on June 2 at the Department of Education issued stricter regulations for “for-profit schools to a better job of ensuring their programs help students earn a living, not just a degree.”

McNally Smith’s president argues that “not all for-profit schools are alike — just as all non-profit and public colleges are not alike.” And he speaks with 30 years experience, noting that those for-profit schools “that succeed are the ones that are mission-driven, providing not only the best possible education for their students but also a great place to work for faculty and staff.”

“I don’t have to look much further for an outstanding example of a for-profit college that works for all the right reasons than the one I currently lead, McNally Smith College of Music (MSCM). It is a privately-held, for-profit ‘business’ that is very fairly priced when compared to other colleges and music conservatories,” Chalmiers writes. “And it generates a modest annual profit just as any business must in order to stay solvent (including not-for-profit businesses and colleges).

“Now in its 25th year, McNally Smith has survived heated local and national competition and recently an unforgiving economy. In many ways its for-profit culture is integral to the music business that we teach about: faculty and students reflect and live in that culture. As a for-profit school, MSCM has several advantages that other schools like ours have: the college doesn’t have to spend an enormous amount of time raising money from alums, parents, foundations, corporations, government, etc. Since it is not dependent on outside funds, neither is it dependent on outside influence. The school makes its own decisions, and can move extremely rapidly and with agility. This is a huge advantage, especially in the current climate of the music business, which is changing with such dramatic speed.

“The college is for-profit for a good reason, as are other small, highly specialized and focused for-profit colleges. Its founders, Jack McNally and Doug Smith, spent much of their early professional careers in the non-profit world. It was out of this learning experience – and the lack of respect and interest paid to contemporary music, plus layers of bureaucracy not conducive to the creation of innovative music programs – that they chose the more efficient and often more creative for-profit organizational model.

“This structure has enabled the college to grow steadily and quickly respond to the ever-changing music and entertainment industry, becoming a leader in contemporary music education in the process. Its annual earnings have been substantially reinvested in improvements in facilities, programs, personnel, and services.”

The opinion piece is a perfect illustration of why many students continue to register, study and play hard, then graduate to jobs in the music industry – even at a time when the economy and family finances are still strained.

Well said, President Chalmiers!


Read the entire Harry Chalmiers essay:

Read the national news story: