Last month, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts announced its bachelor’s degree program would be closing by the end of the 2024-25 academic year, leaving 37 first and second-year students unable to complete their degrees at the school.
To continue its students’ education in Philadelphia, PAFA partnered with five local art schools, including Tyler School of Art and Architecture.
“The partner schools were selected because they have similar missions and academic offerings that align with PAFA’s,” the academy wrote in an email statement to The Temple News. “They will offer the transferring students a comparable arts education experience with minimal disruption to their studies.”
The PAFA students who choose to transfer to a partner school will be guaranteed admission, receive a waived transfer fee and “in almost all cases” be able to transfer their credits and graduate on schedule, according to PAFAForward.org, the website created by the school following the closure.
“We feel we have a lot to offer [PAFA] students,” said Tyler dean Susan Cahan. “We are as serious about art education here as PAFA is. I know that the other partners are too, but we feel proud of Tyler and we were happy to try to make the transition as easy as possible for those students.”
A special board meeting on Jan. 9 finalized the decision to close the degree program. The museum will still offer its two-year certificate programs and other public education classes, but won’t offer degrees past the class of 2025’s graduation.
The school had been experiencing declining enrollment, from 270 total students in 2019 to 126 this academic year, and was running on a 3 million dollar annual deficit, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Although Temple’s overall enrollment decreased by 21.8 percent between 2019 to 2023 with many of the university’s schools and colleges seeing the consequences, Tyler has not experienced enrollment issues. Fox School of Business saw the worst drop with a 31 percent decrease from the 2019-2020 to the 2023-2024 academic year.
In contrast, Tyler’s programs in architecture, graphic and interactive design and art therapy grew in size in the past few years, Cahan said.
Despite PAFA’s efforts to support its remaining students, some see few benefits from the local partnership.
Cara Clarke, a 34-year-old professional portrait painter in Philadelphia, was accepted into PAFA for the 2023-24 year but deferred her initial acceptance for a year due to her pregnancy. As a result of the program’s closure and her circumstances, Clarke was able to get her deferral payment back but none of the transfer benefits.
“[I was] devastated,” Clarke said. “Especially [because] I’m a planner. I have a five-year plan. I enrolled my daughter into the daycare that’s across the street, which took a lot of time to get into, so I just needed a minute walk. So everything was lined up and I was ready to start there. It’s been a big blow to my plans.”
Clarke will continue to take classes at the museum through its Continuing Education program but can no longer count on a degree from the school. She believes she is likely the only one in her situation and knows of other students who have received guidance from PAFA as they transition out of an unsatisfactory situation.
“Sometimes I think any news is horrible news, but it could be good news,” Clarke said. “Maybe people will go [to the museum], there’s a lot of great exhibits that are there right now. People can go support it and keep supporting the arts in Philly. There’s great art communities, art scenes, there’s a lot of people from PAFA who do teach in other locations around the city.”
PAFA will remain open as a museum, continue its certificate and K-12 programs and keep operating until those graduating in 2025 receive their degrees.
“PAFA is a great institution, with a distinguished history and great legacy,” Cahan said. “I’m happy that the museum will stay open, and we are here to support this great institution in many ways we can.”