Real Talk – The State of our Bands

Sometimes I come across HBCU-band related content so good, I cant help but share it.

This “real talk” comes from Taylor Whitehead (Virginia State Alum/MTE Staff Member/High School Director). It’s a long post, but it’s worth it. He did a really good job with summing up what is going on with our bands. Enjoy.


This post is for all of my HBCU friends that are into marching bands. This is a long post but it might be worth your read. I am sure that some of the numbers I have from my research are off but you should get the point:

Since the beginning of this band season, I have posted quite a few videos of HBCU Marching Bands. Many of my HBCU Alumni & VSU friends have been inquiring about why certain bands are so much bigger than other bands. For quite some time bands in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) & Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) have been much bigger than bands in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) & Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAC). This is nothing new. There are however always a few exceptions.

The biggest question is always why or how? There are a few factors that have a tremendous impact on size. Working as a high school band director and at the collegiate level, I have seen both sides of this issue as students make their college selections and especially for those going to be in the band. I will tell you that probably the overall biggest factor is MONEY, so if you want to see the band at your school become larger, start getting out those check books. Find out does your school have a way that you can contribute to the band scholarship fund or the band in general. Most band programs have seen tremendous financial cuts in the last few years. Bands that use to be big are now quite small. Some are almost non-existent. If we are to save our HBCU Marching Bands, we have to understand what is going on at these institutions.

These are the main factors that I see affecting the overall size of band programs today:

1. COST OF ATTENDANCE – The bottom line is if students can’t afford the University of their choice, they won’t be there.

2. SCHOLARSHIP BUDGET – There are a few HBCU Schools that are known to have huge scholarship budgets (Bethune, Talladega, Jackson St etc). This means that they can offer top dollar to outstanding players and have enough funds to spread lower scholarship amounts for dozens of mid-level players. On the other hand in the past schools like Fayetteville State have much smaller scholarship budgets and can’t compete in the bidding war to get top musicians. Certain schools have virtually no budget for scholarships. There are those schools like North Carolina A&T that still do exceptionally well with the limited scholarships available. Additionally, the best high school seniors now want to go to the highest bidder because they know the money is out there at certain schools.

3. ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT – Some administrations see bands as a financial burden. However, if the band grows, that means more students are at the school. Those schools with larger bands generally have outstanding administrative support.

4. RECRUITMENT – Many HBCU’s are doing an outstanding job recruiting year round. Recruitment can come through various ensemble performances, visiting schools, social-media campaigns, mailings, band events, phone calls etc. Schools like North Carolina A&T and Southern University are on top of the recruitment game with their social-media campaigns now. Every high school percussionist knows who “Cold Steel” is just as every high school auxiliary member knows who “Golden Delight is. At smaller institutions with virtually no band staff other than one full time band director, recruitment is often times at a stand-still and the bands can only hope that they will get the band students that are attending their University for some academic program.

5. SCHOOL ENROLLMENT – Larger schools have more students on campus to pull from. Chances are larger schools already have many musicians already on campus. However, schools like Talladega are a true exception to the rule as their enrollment is very low but they have a huge scholarship budget. At many institutions enrollment is dwindling very fast. Virginia State has almost 1,000 less students than it had just four or five years ago.

6. HOW GOOD THE BAND IS – Who wants to be in a band that is looked at as not being good and always small. Smaller bands have to work twice as hard to try to get numbers while the larger bands normally have huge amounts of incoming freshmen yearly.

7. THE BAND DIRECTOR – There are some band directors that students are eager to be a part of their program. These directors are visible and have great relationships not only with the students in their programs but also high school band directors. If students don’t like the director, chances are much slimmer that they will stay in the program.

8. RETENTION – Many bands do well with recruiting new members yearly but struggle to keep the current member after a season or two. It will be impossible to grow if you are only replacing the students that are going out. Additionally, if the band practices all night long all marching season, students won’t be able to keep their grades up and eventually fail out of school

9. HIGH SCHOOL BANDS IN THE STATE – The further north you go, there are less high-stepping marching bands as well as many of the northern high school bands are a lot smaller than southern high school bands. When recruiting in your state, there is a huge difference for a Delaware State versus Southern University. Now by no means do all of our students come from high stepping high school bands but it has generally begin the largest HBCU recruiting ground.

10. FOOTBALL SCHEDULE – In the SWAC, week after week, you are going to have exciting games with most likely another good band across the field. In the CIAA & SIAC, chances are you might see at best 3-4 bands the whole season and only 1 or 2 are good match-ups. Poor band schedules particularly are hard to keep the interest of band students.

11. MONEY – Even if you get the student in school it takes money to keep them there. Listed below is the cost of tuition and enrollment for some of the more popular HBCU Bands by conferences. Tennessee State University, Southern University & Jackson State University are the two cheapest. All of these schools have large marching bands. Norfolk State University, Prairie View A&M & Virginia State University are the most expensive. Prairie View’s band is growing while Norfolk State & Virginia State are quite a bit smaller than they were just a few years ago.

Prairie View (In State) $18,496 (Out of State) $29,963 (Enrollment) 6,979

Jackson State (In State) $16,440 (Out of State) $22,952 (Enrollment) 9,000

Southern (In State) $15,833 (Out of State) $17,477 (Enrollment) 6,730

Alabama St. (In State) $15,472 (Out of State) $22,678 (Enrollment) 5,365

Norfolk State (In State) $18,472 (Out of State) $30,865 (Enrollment) 6,000

Florida A&M (In State) $16,279 (Out of State) $27,651 (Enrollment) 10,229

North Carolina A&T (In State) $13,615 (Out of State) $26,375 (Enrollment) 10,561

Bethune Cookman $24,070 (Enrollment) 3,787 Students

Miles College $22,270 (Enrollment) 1,880

Clark Atlanta $21,334 (Enrollment) 2,700


Virginia St. (In State) $19,430 (Out of State) $28,686 (Enrollment) 4,900

Shaw $25,928 (Enrollment) 3,126

Winston Salem (In State) $15,105 (Out of State) $24,634 (Enrollment) 6,400

Elizabeth City (In State) $12,359 (Out of State) $24,034 (Enrollment) 2,661

Tenn St (In State) $6,776 (Out of State) $20,132 (Enrollment) 8,816

Talladega $20,213 (Enrollment) 700

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