Philadelphia’s University of the Arts Announces Sudden Closing

The school was created by the 1985 merger of the Philadelphia College of Art and the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts.

The news comes in the wake of similar closings nationwide, in part because of pressures on higher education generally but also because of art institutions’ particular vulnerabilities. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s first art school and museum, founded in Philadelphia in 1805, is dissolving at the end of the 2024-25 academic year. (The University of the Arts had been designated to take on some of the Academy’s students.) Last April, the 150-year-old San Francisco Art Institute filed for bankruptcy, and that fall, the Art Institutes, a system of for-profit colleges, announced the closing of eight campuses nationwide.

Some failed schools overextended themselves with building projects; others acquired real estate at the top of the market, then saw its value plummet. Many have faced challenges caused by the disruption in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. The pandemic hit art schools especially hard since students prefer to study these subjects in person, Deborah Obalil, president of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, of which the University was a member, said in an interview.

Tuition for the 2023-2024 year was $54,010, according to a spokesman, although the average cost of attendance is lower because, the university says, all students receive some sort of institutional aid.

Without deep endowments, moreover, art schools are typically unable to provide much financial aid. The University’s endowment was about $60 million, according to officials there. Yale’s was $40.7 billion in 2023, and that of the highly ranked California Institute of the Arts — known as CalArts — was $213.8 million as of 2022.

The financial woes of the University of the Arts were widely known. Furthermore, there was relatively quick turnover among presidents with contrasting visions, leaving some repeatedly feeling a sense of whiplash, as well as rapid turnover at the level of deans and in admissions and advancement offices.

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