Recruit & Retain (Saint Leo University)

Hitting the Right Notes

College athletics have long been valued as activities that enrich students’ lives as well as campus culture, and as vehicles for helping schools recruit and retain bright, driven students. But music is an equally powerful, yet undervalued, retention tool that also pays dividends beyond graduation and throughout a person’s life. It’s time for music programs on campus to receive the recognition they deserve for enriching students’ lives and keeping them in school.

Think about it: how many college athletes do you know who are still playing a sport into their 40s? In contrast, participation in music can enhance one’s life even into their 80s — long after a person isn’t able to participate in sports anymore, they can still sing and play musical instruments. They can join a choir, a community orchestra or band, or even a garage band, and continue to actively make music for their entire lives. In higher education specifically, it’s been proven that participation in a music ensemble gives students the social network and sense of belonging they need to feel at home on campus.

Increased Engagement

In a study conducted over five years, Don R. Crowe, professor of Music Education and Music Entrepreneurship at South Dakota State University, followed two groups of freshmen at a public university, tracking their persistence from their freshmen year all the way to their final year of school. He found that the retention rate among students who got involved in a music ensemble during their first semester of freshman year was, on average, 10 percent higher than those who did not participate. We enjoy a similar retention boost here at Saint Leo University in St. Leo, FL, thanks to our strong music ensembles.

A Shared Goal

At Saint Leo we don’t yet have a music major, but we have a robust music program that brings together students from a variety of backgrounds with the shared goal of making music. For our incoming freshman, joining a music ensemble immediately places them in a group that offers opportunities for social engagement beyond their everyday interactions in the classroom or residence halls. Our musicians get to know each other on a different level as they perform, record and go on tour together.

The Saint Leo Singers International, a group of singers from three of our vocal ensembles, went on a trip to Italy this past spring, giving our choir members a chance to form shared experiences and shared goals.

This trip provided a shared collective memory that is very healthy for students and makes them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. Seeing the results of their hard work gives them a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that few other things can. The combination of these things promotes college retention, and leads to music becoming such a big part of our students’ lives that they find ways to continue making music even after they graduate.

Getting Involved

At least two of our 2017 graduates — a hospitality management major and a business major — have expressed interest in singing with our faculty and staff choir now that their time as students has come to an end. That interest continues to blossom on campus as the university continues to find ways to provide musical opportunities for our students.

We see our students’ desire to participate in music as a growth opportunity for the school as well as the students themselves. We recognize that those students who excel musically often excel academically, much like our student athletes do.

We also know that we have a strong pool of high school music programs here in Florida from which we can recruit musically talented incoming freshmen. To draw them in, we’ve begun to display our pride in our musicians by sharing their recordings and performances on YouTube and the SaintLeoMusic Facebook page, and touting the opportunities to participate in music performance that Saint Leo provides.

Music enriches lives. It gives us a connection, an identity and an opportunity to express ourselves. It fulfills a basic human need to belong to something bigger than ourselves and to produce creative work. Providing opportunities for your students to fulfill that need attracts musically talented and academically driven students to your university and keeps them in school all the way to graduation. So why not show your music program a little love?

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Selph is assistant professor of music at Saint Leo University ( in St. Leo, FL.