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University of the Arts in Philadelphia shuts down abruptly

June 5, 2024
The school had seen its enrollment plummet and was faced with a severe cash flow problem.

The University of the Arts in Philadelphia says it is closing its doors for good on June 7.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the closure of the school with nearly 150-year-old roots comes after a precipitous decline in enrollment and a severe cash flow problem that had been building over time.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the university's accrediting agency, says the university is out of compliance with all standards.

The commission noted in its documents that the university failed to inform the commission of the closure in a timely manner or plan for proper closure.

University President Kerry Walk said school officials had tried to avoid such an abrupt closure but were unsuccessful. Walk has resigned.

"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," the board of trustees wrote. "The situation came to light very suddenly. Despite swift action, we were unable to bridge the necessary gaps."

The university employs just under 700 faculty and staff.

Two lawsuits have been filed against the university on behalf of employeesCBS News Philadelphia reports.

Nine employees have filed a lawsuit and are represented by attorney Eric Lechtzin.

"We are here to give them a voice and to try to give them — at a minimum — what they should receive under the federal WARN Act, which is 60 days pay and benefits," Lechtzin said. "We're dealing with a situation where even the highest level employees — the deans of colleges with the university — literally have no more knowledge about what's going on and where things stand than the lowest level work-study student employees."

A second lawsuit names 12 plaintiffs, including organizers from the United Academics of Philadelphia labor union.

"We think it's really important that we stand up for what seems like a pretty clear case of wrongdoing and try to protect the rights of our members and ourselves," said United Academics of Philadelphia Chapter Delegate Rick Rein. 

Walk said the university had been struggling for a while, and like many colleges post-pandemic, had lost significant enrollment. This fall the school opened with 1,149 students, down from 2,038 in 2013, she said.

Walk said she first became aware of a significant cash flow problem on May 14 and that it quickly became apparent that the problem was even bigger than originally thought.

The last data the school has shared with municipal bondholders shows that total enrollment fell to 1,313 in the 2022-23 school year from 1,914 in the 2018-19 school year.

The news of the closure comes less than a year after the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts had announced that it was eliminating its bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts programs.

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