Searching high and low for college money? At TCU, you can just join the band.
Faced with a dwindling marching band — one that lagged far behind its Big 12 peers, despite its location in a hotspot of high school band talent — TCU in 2015 started offering an incentive to full-time students of $3,000 a year to all band members.
“You can earn $12,000 over four years is how we pitch it,” band director Brian Youngblood said.
This year, the marching band has 235 members, up from 150 in 2014.
The money was designed to entice nonmusic majors who were arriving on campus with high school marching band experience.
Catherine Lillie, now a junior, is an example.
After four years in the marching band at Colleyville Heritage High School, Lillie was unsure whether she wanted to continue playing percussion at TCU.
She planned to major in political science, and a band schedule, as she knew first-hand, could be burdensome, with long rehearsals in the heat and events on the weekends. The time commitment was similar to a part-time job.
Then, in 2015, Lillie talked to a former Heritage classmate who was in the TCU band.
“He told me, ‘Hey, before you even think about doing it or not doing it, just know you’re going to get $3,000,’ ” Lillie said.
Now, two years later, Lillie said joining the band was the right choice, “even if they took away the money tomorrow.” But at the time, the cash “definitely factored into” her decision, she said, and that’s exactly what the TCU band directors were hoping for.
Before the incentive, Youngblood and director Bobby Francis had estimated that the band’s size would continue to dwindle, possibly dipping down to 100 members in several years.
The problem was on display each Saturday, when the football team played Big 12 conference opponents whose bands were often more than twice TCU’s size.
Texas Tech often averages about 400 band members, while Baylor, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma average about 300. Those schools also compete heavily for Metroplex students, and in the case of the public schools, they often are more affordable than TCU.
North Texas is traditionally home to some of the best high school bands in the state and nation, from Arygle to Hurst L.D. Bell to Flower Mound.
“Places like DFW and Houston are hot spots for recruiting band students for universities across the country,” Francis said. “Many out-of-state universities aggressively recruit students from our area and offer incredible scholarships and other incentives, such as out-of-state tuition [waivers] to entice them.”
For TCU, part of the problem, at least compared to its Big 12 counterparts, was enrollment size. The expectation, Francis said, is for marching bands to make up about one out of every 100 students at a college.
At that rate, TCU, with an undergraduate enrollment of about 9,000 students, should have a marching band of about 90.
“It’s very much driven by the undergraduate population,” Youngblood said.
But Youngblood and Francis also attributed the decline in the band, oddly enough, to TCU’s rise in popularity among prospective students.
In 2011, after the football team won the Rose Bowl and the school continued to recruit out-of-state students, applications to the school surged, rising from 14,097 to 19,166.
As the admissions became more selective, fewer students arrived on campus with high school marching band experience. Either the students with band experience weren’t admitted or they made the cut but missed out on competitive scholarships and chose more affordable options, Francis said.
“Band kids are smart,” Francis said, “but they’re not out practicing the SAT every Saturday. They’re participating in band competitions.”
Youngblood and Francis said they noticed the drop-off immediately — they estimated that before 2011, about 300 students were arriving with prior band experience. That number then dropped to about 100, with about 70 joining the marching band each year.
The need for an incentive, an idea the two band directors had kicked around for years, was even more apparent.
‘You can earn $3,000’
After administrators approved the idea, the plan was put into place: Each full-time student in the marching band would receive a $3,000 award for completing a full semester, plus the football bowl game.
Two-hour rehearsals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and attendance on game days are required. But after football season, no more time commitments are needed until the following August.
The additional money was also a welcome reward for the music majors, who comprise about 60 percent of the band. Music majors are eligible for School of Music scholarships, but they are often only partial awards.
“You’re putting in the hours, so it makes it more like a job,” said senior drum major Jacob Collins, who commutes from North Richland Hills and uses the incentive for gas money and other expenses.
Miles said he believes the money has also kept more music majors in the band, though they’re not required to be.
“Rolling out that $3,000 is enticing,” he said. “Some music majors want to be in the symphony and the orchestra, and a lot of what marching band does is loud and playing out. So they’re not really turned on to the idea. But if you offer a little incentive there, they are.”