Early last week I sent a letter to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. Here is the text of that letter:
I write to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee of the State Board of Higher Education on behalf of the Music Therapy program at the University of North Dakota. As you are likely aware, UND administration recently slated the Music Therapy program for suspension due to budget shortfalls. The purpose of this letter is to describe how the UND Music Therapy degree, an allied healthcare training program, meets the needs of the state and addresses the state board’s identified priorities for higher education in North Dakota.
Board certified and licensed music therapists (MT-BC/L) fill a unique healthcare role in North Dakota. MT-BC/Ls with at least a Bachelors Degree are qualified to work with patients in cancer care, in-patient acute medical and psychiatric settings, long term psychiatric settings, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, intensive care, pediatrics, neuro-rehabilitation, special education, dementia care, and end-of-life care. According to the Third Biennial Report on Health Issues for the State of North Dakota, the state faces a shortage of all types of health care professionals, including mental health and allied health care providers. If the state faces a shortage of qualified healthcare providers, why suspend a degree program that trains students to work in such a wide variety of medical and other health care related settings?
The nature of healthcare itself is rapidly changing in the United States. According to the same Biennial Report on Health Issues:
“Optimal care of patients depends on a team of healthcare providers. Although previous service delivery models typically had a physician as the center of the healthcare effort, it is clear that better and less expensive care is provided by a robust team of collaborating professionals, with team members providing input and expertise from their disciplines.”
Music Therapists serve a vital role on health care teams. We are called upon to help patients achieve and maintain desired levels of physical and emotional comfort, interact with their environments and the people around them, and progress towards specific therapeutic goals when other treatment modalities prove ineffective. Music Therapy is highly valued by health care teams because of the profound ways music influences humans physically, psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. Music Therapy enhances the care provided by physicians and nurses, often resulting in shorter hospitalizations, more efficient recoveries, and lower overall healthcare costs to patients and facilities. 
Higher education institutions in North Dakota serve the health and well-being of the citizens by training health care practitioners. This is important because the turnover rate for health care providers trained outside of North Dakota is approximately double that of providers trained in state. In an effort to retain more qualified practitioners in the state, the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences is working to increase the number of health care students and residents trained in state by 25% in the coming years. Of the 14 music therapists currently licensed to practice in the state, 11 were trained at UND. Seven of those 11 MT-BC/Ls earned their degrees from UND within the past six years. If the goal is to increase in-state training and retention of healthcare providers, it seems counterintuitive to suspend a program that does just that.
The Music Therapy program meets several of the SBHE’s priority areas in the new five-year plan, namely:
- Providing programs people want, where and when they need them
- Equipping students for success
- Maximizing the strengths of a unified system
Music Therapy is a degree program people want, where they want it. The UND Music Therapy program is the only accredited MT program between Minneapolis and Seattle. The next closest accredited programs are at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Augsburg College, and Colorado State University. The UND program attracts students from Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Canada in addition to North Dakota residents. The number of students declaring Music Therapy as a major has more than tripled in the past ten years. Retention and graduation rates have also increased, and the MT program has the highest retention and graduation rates in the UND Music Department. The current senior class is the largest one to date, with ten students prepared to complete their clinical internships and take the board certification exam over the next calendar year.
The UND Music Therapy program equips students for success. The program enjoys an extremely high first-time pass rate on the national Music Therapy Board Certification exam. Our first-time pass rate is 97.63%, as compared to 60-80% nationally, and UND’s overall CBMT exam pass rate is 100%, compared to the national average of 76%. Based on this information, you can see why the UND MT program is held in high regard by clinicians, educators, and professionals across the United States.
Music Therapists are, by their nature, collaborators. The UND Music Therapy program maximizes the strength of a unified system and university by encouraging academic and clinical collaboration between departments, schools, and community stake holders across the state.
The MT curriculum includes course work in music, music therapy, technology, psychology, statistics, anatomy, inter-professional healthcare, counseling, special education, and sociology, as well as general education classes. Students complete a minimum of 180 supervised pre-internship clinical hours as part of their on-campus training. Students earn these hours by working with clinical and health care agencies throughout the state, including in more rural communities. Students must also complete a six-month fulltime internship before graduating and taking the CBMT exam. Most of these internships occur outside of North Dakota, but UND MT faculty worked with Valley Memorial Homes to create internship opportunities in Grand Forks. Both of the students who recently interned at VMH were hired shortly after taking their CBMT exams. UND currently has one intern placed with Music Therapy in Motion in Grand Forks and Fargo, and she has been offered a position with MTIM after she passes her CBMT exam. In addition to the work of students, faculty at UND conduct research with, and provide clinical services to, citizens across the state, including in rural areas where service provision is most badly needed.
The UND Music Therapy program enhances UND’s national research reputation. UND MT faculty are recognized as leaders in their field. They serve on state, regional, and national boards. They publish in nationally recognized journals and texts, serve on ad hoc scientific review panels for the National Institutes of Health, and present at international, national and regional conferences. Students, too, are recognized for their research accomplishments. UND Music Therapy students won the prestigious E. Thayer Gaston research award from the American Music Therapy Association in both 2013 and 2014, and six more UND students are competing for the award this year.
I recognize that UND must live within its financial means, and I understand that difficult decisions must be made. However, I do not believe that healthcare in North Dakota should be made to suffer because of budget shortfalls. The mission of the State Board of Higher Education is to “enhance the quality of life for all those served by the NDUS as well as the economic and social vitality of North Dakota”. The Music Therapy program at UND does just that in a tangible and fiscally responsible way. I ask that you and your fellow committee members reverse the suspension of the Music Therapy program at UND for the health and well-being of the citizens of this great state.
 Third Biennial Report on Health Issues for the State of North Dakota 2015 (Report), p. 58.
 Romo, R. & Gifford, L. (2007). A Cost-benefit analysis of music therapy in a home hospice. Nursing Economics, 25(6), 353-358.
 Standley, J.& Walworth, D.D. (2005). Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Total Program, in J. Standley (Ed.), Medical Music Therapy, 33-40. AMTA.
 The national first-time pass rate percentage fluctuates from year to year based on the performance of candidates in a given year.