Citing rising costs and dwindling enrollment, PAFA cuts degree programs

“We did not make the decision lightly,” PAFA’s president said in a letter Wednesday. “We sought every possible opportunity to avoid it.”

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PAFA building

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

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The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is cutting its degree programs, citing declining enrollment and increasing costs as reasons for the sudden move.

The unanimous decision was made during a special board meeting Tuesday. PAFA’s leadership and the Board of Trustees determined it was “no longer strategically or financially in the best long-term interests” to continue offering degrees, according to a letter from President Eric Pryor. Specifically, “rising costs, expanding requirements and dwindling enrollment.”

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

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PAFA established a long-term sustainability committee, or LTS, to do “a comprehensive review of the institution and its programming in a post-pandemic environment.” The LTS and PAFA leaders determined the degrees weren’t sustainable.

“The LTS was determined to leave no stone unturned in identifying ways to continue our BFA and MFA programs with the least disruption to our students, faculty and staff,” Pryor said. “The Board and PAFA’s Leadership Team conducted extensive outreach to potential partners with whom we might collaborate to continue granting PAFA degrees. These efforts did not bear fruit, and the Board yesterday, on Jan. 9, made the unanimous decision to wind down our BFA and MFA programs at the conclusion of the 2024-2025 academic year.”

Students graduating in Spring 2025 will be the final class of PAFA alumni. Juniors, seniors and all MFA students on track to graduate from PAFA in either 2024 or 2025 will be able to do so.

However, 37 first-year students and sophomore students will be affected. PAFA said it’s created personalized transfer plans for them to continue their studies at other institutions in the area, including the University of the Arts, Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, Moore College of Art & Design, Arcadia University and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

Student housing will also not be offered at PAFA beyond May 2024, but extracurricular activities will continue through the spring semester.

Regarding faculty and staff, PAFA said 85% of its full-time employees will “support our students to graduate in 2024 and 2025 as well as continue to teach art in other PAFA programs.” However, some staff “will no longer have roles” after June 2024. PAFA’s President and Dean will decide which roles get cut “based primarily on the requirements of the continuing education, professional development, and certificate programs.”

“We are mapping out a new vision for the future for PAFA that honors our history, inspires our community, and continues to build our legacy,” Pryor said in the letter. “The path ahead will be difficult, even painful at times, but I believe it will lead PAFA back to what we are meant to be—a place to collectively celebrate the transformative power of art and amplify the creative work of the next generation of art makers.”

Going forward, PAFA said it will put a “renewed focus” on expanding its certificate programs and leasing out unused space. It also says the cutting of degree programs won’t have any “negative effect” on the museum.

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PAFA opened its MFA program in 1991, established its BFA program in 2008, and achieved accreditation in 2013.

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