Berklee Today

A Quest to Bring the Best to Berklee College of Music

The new Presidential Scholarship Program will cover all the costs of a Berklee education and enable top musicians from around the world to attend.

Estimated Costs to Attend Berklee
Tuition $20,350
Mandatory fees $510
Laptop purchase program
(entering students only)
$2,750
Health insurance $815
Room and Board $10,900
Books and supplies $805
Transportation $1,275
Personal expenses $5,185

Total $42,592

At the end of a Berklee on the Road clinic in Buenos Aires, a young Argentine flutist gave a stunning audition before a panel of Berklee faculty members and won a full-tuition scholarship. When it was announced that he won, he and his parents broke into tears, the audience burst into cheers, and the local newspaper photographers snapped pictures. It was a triumphant moment. But when Vice President of Student Affairs/Dean of Students Larry Bethune extended his hand to congratulate the program's Argentine host, he was surprised at the response he got. "Yes, those are tears of joy," he told Bethune, "but the real reason they're crying is that, even with full tuition, there is no way he can even afford to get to Berklee, never mind stay there."

Similar stories are heard in scores of cities worldwide when Berklee conducts its extensive annual World Scholarship Tour. Each year in the fall and spring, Berklee's scholarship teams go to cities in the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America to audition top talent. Prospective students are judged by Berklee faculty members who calculate a scholarship amount based on the instrumental or vocal ability and potential of each applicant.

Berklee awards some $10 million in scholarships annually according to merit and largely funded by tuition and some special endowments. Scholarships are offered in varying percentages up to full tuition for the most talented students. These merit scholarships are a financial bridge that many students need to get to Berklee to hone their skills and touch their dream. A full 30 percent of Berklee's incoming students each fall receive some form of scholarship assistance that is renewable each year. Some students, however, accept the scholarship and enroll, knowing that they may not be able to afford to stay. Their hope is that if they can just get to Berklee, they'll be discovered and the money will somehow come. For many students, that doesn't happen.

For hundreds of highly talented students like the Argentine flutist mentioned above, a full-tuition merit scholarship isn't enough when they consider the cost of living in Boston - estimated at $10,000 to $12,000 per year. Despite the best of intentions, a Berklee education is expensive. Currently, tuition costs $20,350 for the degree program and $19,790 for the diploma program. Add another $5,845 for residence halls, which includes room and three meals a day, the $2,750 fully loaded laptop computer (required for all entering students), books, the state-mandated health insurance, and the real cost of a Berklee education can top $42,000 per year. Such a bottom line can leave even those promised a generous scholarship package priced out of the market.

The Presidential Scholarship Program

Presently, none of Berklee's scholarships include full room and board. The truth is that Berklee's scholarships really work best for those who have a portion of the money needed to attend Berklee. "It's very sad to see extremely talented students that can't come to Berklee or can't afford to stay at Berklee," says Larry Bethune. "We find that when we interview students about why they leave Berklee, most leave because they can't afford to stay. That's bad news for a student and bad news for a college."

President Roger Brown and Berklee College of Music's Board of Trustees have set out to address the problem through the Presidential Scholarship Program. This new initiative will offer full tuition as well as room and board. "It's just a fact of life that musical talent is not distributed only to wealthy people," says Brown. "As a private college, we're very expensive for a family without a lot of income. If we really want to be the place where the finest musicians gather, we have to do some work to make sure it's possible for them to get here and stay here."

To be considered for the Presidential Scholarship, students audition through Berklee's existing scholarship auditions program. Those who are identified as full-tuition scholarship candidates, based on merit, will be invited to submit a financial aid form. Those who demonstrate need will be considered for the Presidential Scholarship. The program will start small with five Presidential Scholarships to be awarded in the fall of 2005. Over the course of four years, five more will be added annually to reach a total of 20 students. The board of trustees believed so strongly in the initiative that it approved use of $1.5 million from the college's endowment to fund the program.

Brown's goal is to double the amount of money available for scholarships over the next five to 10 years. Much of that will come from earnest fundraising. The goal is to build the endowment and fund scholarships from the interest generated by the endowment. "A gift of $40k for one year would pay for one student, but when it's gone, it's gone," Bethune says. "Raising money for ongoing scholarship programs means attracting gifts large and small to the endowment." At the normal 5 percent rate of spending from the endowment, providing $120,000 to support three new students for one year at $40,000 each would require an additional $2 million. No small sum - but having those funds in the endowment allows Berklee to continue the program in perpetuity.

Building Diversity One Scholarship at a Time

An important goal of the Presidential Scholarship Program is to build diversity. "We want Berklee to be as diverse as it can be, in terms of ethnicity, gender, life experience, and socioeconomic class," says Brown. "This is one way to make sure that, as a private college, we are aggressively moving toward becoming accessible to people who might not otherwise have a chance to be here."

Brown points to the example of Japanese pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi '57. She wrote to Berklee founder Lawrence Berk in the 1950s practically begging to come to Berklee. In the years following the war between the United States and Japan, the college was full of young veterans studying music on the GI bill. "It would have been easy to say 'Let's not waste our money on a young woman from Japan. How is she possibly going to have any impact on the world?'" says Brown. But she did because Lawrence Berk saw her potential. He negotiated with the State Department and the Japanese government, gave her a full scholarship, and sent her airline tickets, establishing Berklee as a leader in helping open the world of music to women. "We should be proud of that," says Brown. "If music is partly about helping people see the world more clearly, more honestly and to see people as human beings - not as men, women, black, white - then Berklee has to be a leader in the way we recruit students, the way we hire staff, and the way we employ faculty."

Brown feels Berklee has an obligation to maintain diversity. "Whoever or wherever they are, if they care about contemporary music, then they ought to be able to feel not only welcome here, but also that it is a financial option," he says. "In the world at large and in our country, there has been systematic discrimination against people that has led them to not have wealth and income. We're naïve if we say we're welcoming to everyone, but it'll cost you $20,000 a year."

Enriching the Student Experience

"The Presidential Scholarship Program is just one arrow in our quiver," says Brown. "There are some people for whom a $2,000 scholarship is enough to help them get here. They've got some family resources, and they can borrow or apply for grants. We want to tap every source of support for students to try to make it as affordable as possible to be here. For certain students, we think this Presidential Scholarship really takes us that extra step. Frankly, we want to get the finest musicians we can get, and we hope that they will give something back to their colleagues at Berklee. Imagine if you were the young person at Berklee who got to be in the same ensemble that Quincy Jones was in. What a thrill! This model is good for the students who receive the scholarship as well as those who get to work, play, and hang with the people who might otherwise not be attending."

One very successful model for tuition fundraising has been the Berklee City Music Program (BCM). This past year, Berklee provided Summer Youth Scholarship for Talent and Excellence in Music (SYSTEM 5) scholarships for approximately 50 students from urban areas to attend the Five-Week Summer Performance Program. Eight graduating seniors were awarded the Berklee City Music Continuing Scholarship that provides four-year full-tuition support. BCM receives more than $1 million from the Johnson Foundation, corporations, and private donors every year. The program has changed many lives. Roger Brown tells a story of a single mother who today has a career in music after being a part of the City Music Program. "She was a single mom in high school - she thought her life was over, and people probably told her it was," Brown says. "But she found the scholarship and now has a music career."

It is hoped that the Presidential Scholarship will spawn additional scholarships. For example, African Americans make up 4 percent to 6 percent of Berklee's student population, yet make up 12 percent to 14 percent of scholarship students. Many of those students have access to the funding but would incur huge debt to come here. "I hate to see students leaving with $100,000 of debt," says Bethune. "That's a lot of gigs." According to Brown, "We need to make sure the next Steve Vai, Branford Marsalis, or Diana Krall can get here. It's the right thing to do. It's good for Berklee and it's good for the world."

Diversity Creates Good Music

According to Larry Bethune, there is also a creative and artistic goal. Bethune believes that diversity creates good music. "When Berklee chose to put international students into the mix at a higher percentage than other music colleges were, the music got even better." Damien Bracken, Berklee's director of scholarships and student employment, was impressed by a musical number he heard at last fall's convocation concert. Bracken recognized two performers: a Celtic harpist from Scotland and a jazz bassist from Los Angeles, both recent scholarship recipients. The music they performed together was a successful fusion of two disparate sets of cultural influences rendered in a form that was fresh, adventurous, and musically exciting. Having diverse students from all over the world fosters an atmosphere where those with musical sensibilities developed from different backgrounds can come together, often creating a dynamic tension that can be used to create something new.

"Music and creativity do not grow without a modicum of tension," Bethune says. "We want Berklee to be a crucible for diversity of ideas, backgrounds, cultures, and music. Very often, they'll run into each other - it won't be without tensions. But, we want to create a safe haven for that battle."

Transformed Lives and Giving Back

In a recent focus group, Bethune sat with a group of African-American students, and every one of them was a scholarship recipient who had also been helped by their communities and churches. Each expressed a sense of obligation to go back to their neighborhoods and give back because they gotten help from their communities. "Isn't that what music is about?" Bethune asks. "If we want to continue to support the advancement of contemporary music in America and build our communities, we want to see missionaries out there giving out music education - both on a spiritual level and a musical one."

"Many of our alumni came here on scholarships," Brown says. "It has had a transformative impact on their lives. I hope that they will consider supporting other scholarships. That's how these things work. Someone made it possible for Quincy Jones to come here, and he made it possible for Arif Mardin to be here. Arif now makes it possible for other young people to be here. This creates a great chain of giving in which those who benefited from a scholarship could say, 'Let me pay my dues and help someone else.' The mindset shouldn't be that donors are giving money to Berklee, an educational institution, they are giving money to the young people who will receive scholarships enabling them to come to Berklee."

The scholarship audition process will also serve another function; by bringing Berklee within the reach of more people, it will also bring more top talent out of the woodwork. "We want to make a Berklee education a possibility for more people," Brown says. "Once you believe something's possible, it can often happen.

"The ability to create music is a great gift. If you believe in it, you want the next generation to be able to access their gift. And so you would hope that a talented musician who's been successful would first recognize that his or her talent is a blessing and that they were blessed to find an institution that nurtured it. If you are a jazz, contemporary rock, hip-hop, or electronica musician, you wouldn't have found nurturing for your music at a typical conservatory. This cultivates a special affinity for Berklee and what we're about - using music as a force in making the world more equitable and fair."

Consider the successes of some of Berklee's most famous scholarship alumni, including Toshiko Akiyoshi, Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, saxophonist Tommy Smith, and drummer John Blackwell. "They are emblematic of what Berklee is all about," says Brown. "If you look at their career paths and how much they've given back to Berklee through their celebrity and by encouraging people to come here, it's a huge part of our history. That's something I'm very proud of and want to continue through the new Presidential Scholarship Program."