University of the Arts abruptly announces June 7 closure, vows to help students transfer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The University of the Arts, an institution with roots more than a century and a half old in Philadelphia, has abruptly announced it will close in a week, citing declining enrollment and revenues as well as increasing expenses.

University president Kerry Walk and the chair of the board of trustees, Judson Aaron, announced the June 7 closure in a notice posted Friday night on the university’s website, calling it “heartbreaking” and “deeply painful.” Separate town halls are planned Monday with students, faculty and staff, they said.

Officials at the university — which has offered programs in design, fine arts, media arts, music, dance and theater — said summer courses will be canceled and a new class will not be enrolled in the fall. They vowed to help continuing students transfer to other institutions such as Temple and Drexel universities and the Moore College of Art and Design.

Officials said University of the Arts had been in a “fragile financial state" like many institutions of higher learning following “many years of declining enrollments, declining revenues, and increasing expenses,” but had made progress on improving its position.

“Unfortunately, however, we could not overcome the ultimate challenge we faced: with a cash position that has steadily weakened, we could not cover significant, unanticipated expenses,” they said. “The situation came to light very suddenly. Despite swift action, we were unable to bridge the necessary gaps.”

Word of the closure initially came from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which announced the withdrawal of the school's accreditation as of Saturday, saying it had been notified of the imminent closure Wednesday as the summer term started. School officials said that action came before they could announce the closure to the university community and they knew that "makes hearing the news of UArts’ abrupt closure even worse.”

The University of the Arts was created from two century-old institutions, the Philadelphia College of Art — established n 1876 as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — and the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, which both changed names before eventually merging in 1985 and becoming a university two years later.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the university employs just under 700 faculty and staff who will ultimately be out of work. Walk told the newspaper the school opened in the fall with 1,149 students, down from 2,038 in 2013.

Earlier this year, the university's faculty and administration reached a tentative agreement on the first contract in the school's history after more than three years of negotiation. In January, another arts school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, announced elimination of its bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts programs.