University of the Arts Abruptly Shuts Down Leaving Students in Limbo | Playbill

Education News University of the Arts Abruptly Shuts Down Leaving Students in Limbo

Financial troubles led the school to suddenly cease operations without fulfilling a legal obligation to provide a plan for its students' continuing education.

Updated, 5:32 PM after a planned town hall meeting for students, faculty, and staff was cancelled.

Shock and outrage are the most common reactions online after Philadelphia's University of the Arts abruptly revealed it would cease operations late last week. The Pennsylvania institution, founded in 1870, had announced it would shut down June 7, but a loss of accreditation made that closure immediate.

Initial media reports—which reportedly dropped before faculty and students had been notified—blamed the school's loss of accreditation, but this has turned out to be an incomplete narrative. In a statement from Board Chair Judson Aaron and President Kerry Walk, the institution cites financial troubles for the sudden closure. The loss of accreditation was due to University of the Arts' failure to provide the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (the governing body that adjudicated UA's accreditation) with a teach-out plan, essentially a path forward for the school's current students to continue their education at different institutions, per a release from MSCHE.

This last bit is a strange and likely not yet fully explained move on UA's part. The school's statement on its closure indicates some plans are in place for students. "We will support our continuing students in their progress to degree by developing seamless transfer pathways to our partners: Temple University, Drexel University, and Moore College of Art and Design, among others," the statement reads. Temple, for its part, has already revealed its own statement welcoming UA's students, as has New Jersey's Mason Gross School of the Arts. Why information involving these apparent partnerships were not provided to MSCHE remains unclear.

The closure puts UA's current and incoming students in a tough spot to put it mildly, especially so because of the institution's arts focus. Transferring to another school is easy enough when working towards a degree that most schools offer, less so when working on a specialized arts program. Whatever options do arise will also likely not include ways for students to continue working with their current teachers. Many instrumental and voice majors pick schools solely on the basis of the teacher they will be working with, which has the potential to make transfer options insufficient.

Perhaps most affected by this move will be the school's incoming class. According to school faculty who have spoken to Playbill, UA had accepted a freshman class for the 2024-2025 school year despite knowing well in advance of the institution's financial turmoil. These students, who likely have already declined admission offers from other schools, will most likely not be able to participate in any programs UA administration roll out to transfer existing students to other schools. This makes the timing of the closure and the institution's communication of that development especially troublesome.

UA offered a number of arts-related degrees, with areas of study in animation, art, creative writing, dance, film, game design, composition, instrumental performance, vocal performance, music business, music education, painting, screenwriting, acting, directing, musical theatre, theatrical design, and more. Notable alumni of the institution include Broadway favorites Marc Blitzstein, Justin Guarini, LaChanze, Ron Richardson, and Lucas Steele.

A planned virtual town hall meeting for students, faculty, and staff was cancelled shortly before it was scheduled to begin June 3, with UA administration citing an inability to "adequately answer" submitted questions about the move.

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