United States

University of the Arts Philadelphia Will Shut Down On June 7; What Is The Reason Behind This Sudden Announcement?

The University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia suddenly announced its closure due to declining enrollments, revenues, and increasing expenses.

UArts Philadelphia Photo: Facebook

More than a century old University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia suddenly decided to shut its doors on June 7. Many of its 1,149 students and around 700 faculty and staff members learned of the closure through an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer or social media before receiving official notification from the university.

“The situation came to light very suddenly,” stated an announcement on the university's website. The message said that UArts has struggled with declining enrollments, revenues, and increasing expenses for years.

University’s enrollment has dropped from 2,038 students in 2013 to 1,149 at present. President Kerry Walk said that expected revenue, including grants and donations, failed to arrive in time to support the school's finances. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education revoked the university's accreditation on Friday, leaving UArts no choice but to close.

The closure results from cash flow constraints typical for schools like UArts as they rely heavily on tuition. The institution also faced significant unexpected costs, including major infrastructure repairs. According to a statement from the board of trustees, these escalating costs could not be offset by revenue. “Despite our best efforts, we could not ultimately identify a viable path for the institution to remain open and in the service of its mission,” the statement said.

In an email on Friday, President Walk and Board Chair Judson Aaron pledged to help students transfer to other institutions. The university offered around 40 majors and includes artists Charles Sheeler, Dotty Attie, Louise Fishman, Stephen Powers, Neil Welliver, and Deborah Willis in its list of alumni.

The University of the Arts was formed by the 1985 merger of the Philadelphia College of Art and the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts. Its closure follows similar trends nationwide, particularly among art institutions. Last April, the 150-year-old San Francisco Art Institute filed for bankruptcy, and in the fall, the Art Institutes system of for-profit colleges closed eight campuses nationwide. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded in Philadelphia in 1805, will also be ending its degree programs by the end of the 2024-25 academic year.

Many of these closures are attributed to financial overextensions, such as costly building projects and real estate investments that lost value. The disruptions in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process and the pandemic add to impacts on art schools. According to Deborah Obalil, president of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, art students prefer in-person learning, making the pandemic particularly challenging.

Tuition at UArts for the 2023-2024 year was $54,010, though the average cost of attendance is lower the university says, all students receive some sort of institutional aid. The university's endowment was about $60 million, much smaller than those of highly ranked institutions like Yale ($40.7 billion) and CalArts ($213.8 million) as of 2022.

The university's financial struggles were well-known, compounded by frequent leadership changes and rapid turnover among deans and admissions staff. Faculty and staff are represented by United Academics of Philadelphia, part of the American Federation of Teachers. Union president Daniel Pieczkolon said that the union had just negotiated its first contract, which included a review of the university's financials. "We were aware they were struggling financially but closure was never presented as a possibility. It’s incredibly confusing," Pieczkolon said.