Removing Barriers to Access

The Community School of Performing Arts continues the Colburn tradition of ensuring access to excellence for all students through financial aid and scholarship support.

Since its beginnings as a community music school in the 1950s, the Colburn School has been committed to providing access to excellence. Today, it remains a unifying philosophy across all units of the School, vividly demonstrated by robust financial aid and scholarship programs made possible through the generous annual support from individual donors and foundations, as well as contributions to the Access Fund. As Fall registration for the Community School of Performing Arts approaches, Colburn has expanded current financial aid offerings and offered special lesson packages and discounts to ensure that students can continue their studies uninterrupted.

The Origin Story

The Community School began in 1950 when the University of Southern California established a small preparatory school offering school-aged children piano lessons. The community welcomed the idea, and within five years, the program supported 50 faculty members and class selection broadened to include strings, winds, and voice instruction. In 1980, the Richard D. Colburn’s California Foundation assumed the day-to-day operations of the Community School of Performing Arts so that children throughout Los Angeles could continue receiving exemplary performing arts education.

Seventy years later, the focus on the community remains. Dean Susan Cook says “The Community School is committed to providing the highest quality performing arts education possible to a diverse student body in an inclusive environment where all students, regardless of background, level of ability and age, can participate who have a passion, curiosity, and commitment to study.” Today, the Community School serves nearly 1,800 students, spanning Suzuki violinists to pre-collegiate pianists to adults learning an instrument for the first time.

Access and Affordability

Access and affordability are major factors when designing new programs and making decisions for the Community School. Dean Cook highlights the many paths students can take, “Access is provided through numerous free performances, master classes, weekly recital series, and community engagement events such as Open House. In addition, several different types of classes and lessons are offered—there are choices for different group and ensemble experiences, for various levels of accomplishment and art forms, and there is access for those seeking high level individual instruction on a particular instrument or voice.” These options allow for many types of students to participate in the programming.

Tuition for these programs supports the Community School’s talented faculty and provides financial aid for deserving students who need assistance. Additionally, the Community School provides over $750,000 annually in financial and merit support, made possibly through the support of generous donors, including many Colburn families.

Financial Assistance During Covid-19

When COVID-19 set in, the Community School quickly moved to an online learning model and updated its financial aid policies, with a focus on helping our students continue their education. The Community School has redirected merit aid, given summer discounts and lesson packages, and will be freezing tuition for the first month of registration for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Redirection of Merit Aid

While the Community School continues to celebrate our highest achieving students, the School has decided to redirect merit aid into a special allocation of resources specifically for families facing financial struggles from economic fallout due to COVID-19. Assistant Dean Candy Nguyen Smirnow affirms the importance of this aid and “hopes to ensure that students can continue their studies with their teachers to provide a bit of normalcy in their lives during these unprecedented times. The Community School of Performing Arts is first and foremost a community school, and we want to support our community of learners as best we can.

This funding is instrumental in bridging the gap until families can get back on their feet. A disruption from performing arts education of many months will erode the amazing progress the students have made, and this redirection of aid will support deserving families to ensure they can continue their studies.

Summer Discounts

In addition to the merit aid redirection, the Community School also offered significant discounts to students signing up for 8, 12, or 24 lessons during the summer. Students were able to receive more lessons and further their musical goals with the help of our dedicated faculty. Additionally, all group classes were discounted 10%. For families that couldn’t pay the full amount upfront, the Community School provided a three-month payment plan for summer, without the standard set-up fee.

Assistance for Registration for the 2020–21 Academic Year

The Community School is proud that immediate availability of financial aid made a significant positive impact in the summer. In the fall, as with most years, a 2.5% increase in tuition is planned to occur September 1, 2020. However continuing and new students have the opportunity to forgo the tuition increase and lock in the price of their tuition from last year if they register in August.

In tandem with financial assistance, the Community School is excited to provide additional value for students and families. There will be new classes, including Music Production and Music Appreciation, new programs, including the gap year program, and more master classes and conversations with world-class artists.

Ongoing Financial Assistance

In addition to the accessibility efforts related to COVID-19’s economic repercussions, the Community School has ongoing financial aid and scholarship programs that play a key role in offering access.

Herbert Zipper Scholarships

To honor of the legacy of Herbert Zipper, a friend and advisor to Mr. Colburn, the Herbert Zipper Scholarship program started in 2013 with funding from The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The purpose of the scholarship is to serve talented students who demonstrate high financial-need at the intermediate-advanced level. It can cover private lessons, group classes, and ensembles, and is available to our committed students for their entire time at Colburn.

Reflecting on the importance of these scholarships, Piano Department Chair Jeff Lavner said “The Herbert Zipper Scholarship has been vital and unique in supporting talented and motivated students in their studies. Not only can they take lessons on their instrument, they find a community of like-minded children in their theory class and chamber music ensembles. The camaraderie between the students is a vital factor in motivating them to succeed.”

Since its inception, this scholarship has provided 56 students with quality music education. Armed with the support of the staff, faculty, and leadership, Herbert Zipper Scholars are making their mark on the world. In 2017, Disney Pixar released Coco, an animated film with Herbert Zipper Scholar Anthony Gonzalez voicing the main character, including all the vocals for the gorgeous soundtrack.

Financial Aid

While the Herbert Zipper Scholarship is an important piece of the accessibility question, financial aid at the Community School eliminates barriers for almost 20% of our student population. The School recognizes the difficulties some experience of raising children in Los Angeles, affording housing and healthcare, and still having the necessary funds for arts education outside of school.

To be considered for a financial aid award, families must earn less than $85,000 in annual income. Last year, the income threshold was raised in order to include more families in the application process. We aim to provide the maximum amount of aid to the highest number of families, and use a sliding discount scale that considers several factors in addition to income, such as family size and extenuating circumstances.

Assistant Dean Smirnow says of the importance of the financial aid process, “The financial aid program allows us to provide support to those students who have the desire to explore their artistic talents, but do not have the financial means to do so. The performing arts are a universal language shared by all, and it is our hope that we can help to eliminate barriers, providing access to high quality arts education, in a safe and nurturing environment.”

In 2019–20, we provided over $635,000 in need-based financial aid awards to support 327 students, representing approximately 18.5% of our Community School student population. Students received aid to support a wide range of activities including private lessons, ensemble/orchestra, and group classes such as early childhood, drama, and music theory. The average family annual income was $37,000. These funds provide for so many incredible, talented students, who otherwise would not have access to quality performing arts education.

Get Involved at the Community School

With 25 years of arts administration experience, Dean Cook knows what is at stake should performing arts education be jeopardized. “Access to arts is essential for social cohesion and humanity—practicing an art form comes from within and when explored and studied, it is a way to grow one’s soul.”

Our community plays an essential role in Colburn’s scholarship and financial aid programs. If you are interested in joining many other families in support of our students, please connect with our Advancement Office by emailing

We are excited for the upcoming semester starting at the end of August. Registration starts August 1 for continuing students and begins August 15 for new students. The Community School is also hosting an Early Childhood Open House on August 15-16, with free classes available to new students.

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