University of the Arts students rally to demand answers about sudden closure

Hundreds of students say they are still searching for reasons why their alma mater is shutting down as the university cancels its town hall.

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Students, faculty and alumni gathered in front of the University of the Arts campus

University of the Arts acting major Stevie Reynolds thought she would be entering her senior year in the fall before learning about the closure. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

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Minnesota native Stevie Reynolds couldn’t wait to graduate from the University of the Arts in 2025 and move to New York City to get their career started.

They majored in acting with a minor in musical theater but won’t get a degree from the University of the Arts — because it won’t exist after June 7.

“I’d never been to Philadelphia before I moved here, I just loved the school so much that I had to be here,” they said. “I was really feeling like I had a strong foundation and community here and now it’s gone. I’m devastated.”

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With no further guidance about what they should do next, Reynolds rallied alongside about 100 fellow students demanding a response.

“We just want answers,” they said. “Everyone I know is out of a job and out of their school. None of us know where to go from here.”

But, about 10 minutes before a town hall was scheduled to address questions about the sudden and unprecedented shutdown, the university canceled, saying, “As the situation continues to unfold rapidly, we cannot adequately answer your questions today” and directing people to submit questions using a Google form.

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UArts’ accreditation is on track to be revoked by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, pending an appeal. The university “failed to properly plan for the closure,” such as a “teach out” plan that would enable some students to finish their education, according to a May 31 letter.

During Fiscal Year 2023, the University of the Arts was operating at a $5.7 million loss, according to financial statements provided to the university’s institutional bondholders. For its Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the university projected it would be operating $643,000 in the black.

It’s not immediately clear how the financial picture worsened to a $12 million operating loss on $63 million in revenue.

University officials blamed low student enrollment — about 1,100 students this past year compared to 2,000 a decade ago.

“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 situation came to light very suddenly,” read the statement.

UArts animation major Erica Martin said she’s unsure where to go next fall and is worried that it will be nearly impossible for the school to facilitate hundreds of student transfers within five days.

“It’s almost impossible for anyone to get in contact with the university to ask questions,” the freshman said Monday. “Obviously people were aware there were issues with the school, but no one could have estimated they would shut down in such an egregious and unprofessional manner.”

Erica Martin at the rally
Animation major and University of the Arts freshman Erica Martin has no idea where she’ll go to college next fall since the college is shutting down. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

Martin said she plans to enroll in a different university, but some of her fellow students might not be able to move forward without significant financial aid packages. The University for the Arts tuition was $54,010 for the 2023–2024 school year.

While there’s a rush by public officials to try and keep the doors open, Martin was not hopeful.

“I think it’s too late to ask for a reopening of the university,” she said.

The university didn’t notify its accrediting institution, nor did it file a WARN Act notice with the state for hundreds of employees, which is supposed to give workers at least 60 days notice. There’s already a class action lawsuit for violation of the WARN Act and the faculty union is considering its legal options.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker spoke with the university president and board members.

“I will continue to convene conversations between university leaders and city, state, federal offices and other stakeholders in the days ahead to determine what can be done to protect every student, faculty and staff member at [the] University of the Arts, a crown jewel in our city’s academic and cultural communities,” Parker said. “Our city cares deeply about the future of every person who studies or works there.”

Philadelphia Councilmember Mark Squilla said he was shocked about the decision and is working with the mayor, in addition to officials at the state and federal level, “to look at every option to find a resolution.”

University of the Arts alumnus Nico Bryant said it’s a weird feeling that his alma mater won’t exist anymore.

“I made a promise to my mother that if I get big and famous, I’m going to sow back into the school and the students like people did to me. I wanted to have a place to come back to and show my kids one day,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Chloe Pyle and Nico Bryant
Rally co-organizer Chloe Pyle just graduated from the University of the Arts with a master’s degree in music education, but said university officials made promises they knew they couldn’t keep. On her left, alumnus Nico Bryant came to the rally to support the students. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

Bryant majored in business entrepreneurship and technology. He just released his third studio album and has been working in the music industry since he graduated.

“Everything I learned from the school has helped me directly in what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

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