Looking For Music Schools on the Web? Let the Buyer Beware!

Legal Corner

Volume CVII, No. 2February, 2007

Harvey Mars, Esq.

The advent of the Internet has opened a brave new world for graduate students Rather than having to enroll in traditional degree programs offered through in-class instruction at schools of higher education, students seeking graduate education may now enroll in degree programs offered via the Internet.

Students who participate in this form of education — also called “distance learning” — have the advantage of being able to complete coursework at home without ever having to step inside a classroom. Unfortunately, these students may also encounter a whole host of problems, especially when the subject matter they are studying is one which typically had been taught through pedagogical techniques requiring in-person instruction. Instrumental music instruction is one such area.

Recently, I grappled with just such a problem when I was approached by an individual who had enrolled in a conservatory of music which had offered courses via the Internet. When he finally learned that his music instruction was not going to be what he thought it would be, he requested a full refund of his tuition. When his efforts failed, he sought my legal assistance.

I was, in fact, able to prompt the school to offer a partial reimbursement of the student’s tuition. However, since he had already participated in a good portion of the semester without complaint, the school was unwilling to reimburse anything more than a token amount.

Music students who seek instruction via an Internet-based conservatory should pay heed to this situation. Prior to signing any document and paying any tuition, do research. Is the institution accredited and licensed by the state to grant the degree sought? Have any claims been filed against it by former students through the Department of Consumer Affairs or the Department of Education? Has the school lost its license at any point in time or engaged in litigation with its students? Who is on the faculty and can you consult with them or any of the current students? What type of instruction is being offered? Satisfactory answers to these questions must be obtained before any money is invested in pursuit of a degree.

Once a contract is signed and tuition is proffered, obtaining reimbursement will be quite an arduous task, especially if the school is situated in another state or overseas. For students, before pursuing an education via the Internet, remember the rule “caveat emptor” — buyer beware!


In response to last month’s article on unemployment compensation, I received a letter from Jon Bloom, executive director of the Workers Defense League. The WDL has provided no-cost representation to Local 802 members who seek unemployment compensation benefits and are required to go to a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Mr. Bloom pointed out to me some areas from the article which warranted clarification. (It’s nice to see someone actually reads these articles!)

For the benefit of any musician who wishes to apply for unemployment compensation benefits, below is a summary of the areas where clarification is necessary.

First, the New York State Department of Labor no longer goes by the “20 weeks out of the past 52” measure for determining base period cited in the article. The standard currently used is counting earnings in the past five completed calendar quarters. Earnings are required in at least two out of either the first four of those five, or the second four out of the five — a period known as the alternate base period.

Additionally, Mr. Bloom pointed out that obtaining an extension to unemployment benefits is currently next to impossible. No federal extension is available and in New York an extension is only available to individuals who qualify for a special program (called 599) may receive benefits.

Finally, Mr. Bloom pointed out that in the WDL’s experience, a musician is considered unemployed or partially unemployed as long as they have no specific offers of work. The hypothetical club date musician I wrote about in my article would not be required to demonstrate that he would never be hired with his previous employer again.

I appreciate Mr. Bloom’s useful comments and recommend that any musician in need of representation at an unemployment compensation hearing seek out the assistance of the Workers Defense League.

Harvey Mars is counsel for Local 802. Legal questions are welcome from 802 members. E-mail them to Nothing in this article should be construed as formal legal advice given in the context of an attorney-client relationship.