Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to end degree programs


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Dive Brief:

  • The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will discontinue its bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the end of the 2024-25 academic year, citing declining enrollment and increased operating costs.
  • PAFA’s board of trustees unanimously voted to end the programs Tuesday after attempts to find an academic partner proved unsuccessful, it announced Wednesday.
  • The 218-year-old Philadelphia institution, which bills itself as the first art school and museum in the U.S, will continue to offer its certificate and continuing education programs. Its joint bachelor’s of fine arts degree, run in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, will also remain unchanged.

Dive Insight:

Colleges across the country have struggled with declining enrollment and rising costs. Small institutions and those focused on the arts have been especially hard hit. For example, the San Francisco Art Institute shuttered in 2022 after a planned merger fell through.

PAFA is no exception, said President Eric Pryor. The institution enrolled 178 students in fall 2021, down from 349 a decade prior, according to federal data.

“We did not make the decision lightly,” Pryor said in a statement. “In fact, we sought every possible opportunity to avoid it.”

PAFA explored alternative plans — including partnering with other institutions — before Tuesday’s vote. But those efforts didn’t pan out, and the board and the institution’s leadership ultimately determined that granting degrees is no longer financially feasible.

Increased revenue alone would not have adequately addressed the long-term challenges of offering fine arts degrees in today’s higher education landscape, PAFA said. And money from the sale of any of its museum assets could only be used to purchase other art or maintain the collection.

“PAFA is not in a position to adequately meet the needs of today’s college students,” the institution said in a FAQ, citing dramatic changes in the higher education landscape over the past 10 years.

This transformation has resulted in “educational, financial, operational, and management challenges that are difficult, if not impossible, for small institutions to overcome,” PAFA said.

Normal academic instruction will continue through the 2023-24 academic year. The college will offer a pared down class calendar the following year to allow students to graduate in spring 2025.

PAFA said there will be employee reductions in the coming months but did not share exact figures.

The institution said it has 37 students not on track to graduate by spring 2025. For these students, and those who do not wish to graduate from PAFA, the institution has arranged teach-out agreements with five Pennsylvania colleges, including Moore College of Art & Design and Arcadia University. Each has waived their transfer application fees.

Students who do not want to continue at PAFA in the spring term can withdraw by Feb. 2 to receive tuition and housing refunds.



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