The Storied Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Will Close Its College in 2025

The PAFA museum will remain open and continue to offer educational programming.

The facade of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Courtesy of PAFA.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), founded in 1805 by the artists Charles Willson Peale and William Rush as the first art school in the United States, is closing its college at the end of the next academic year. The institution’s museum will remain open.

Eric Pryor, the president of PAFA, revealed the college would close after the 2024–25 academic year in an open letter, in which he cited rising costs and low enrollment as the causes. The decision had been approved by PAFA’s board of directors after attempts to salvage the college were unsuccessful.

“The higher education environment has become increasingly complicated by rising costs, expanding requirements, and dwindling enrollment,” Pryor wrote in the letter. “Colleges and universities in our own region and across the country are struggling with these trends. PAFA, unfortunately, is no exception.”

Pryor said that the change only affects its degree-granting programs. Other educational programs, such as its K-12 arts programs and continuing education programs, will continue to be offered by the museum. Students who are juniors and seniors in PAFA’s bachelor’s degree program and on track to graduate will still be able to do so, as well as MFA students.

The college will end classes for freshman and sophomores unable to graduate by 2025 and has partnered with other universities to transfer those 37 students to complete their education. Those universities are the University of the Arts, Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Moore College of Art & Design, Arcadia University, and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

“Although we will no longer operate the BFA and MFA programs after 2025, we will continue to pursue the arts education mission at the core of PAFA’s 218-year history,” Pryor wrote. “In many ways, the decision to end these degree-granting programs presents PAFA with an opportunity to return to our roots—arts education for the lifecycle of the artist.”

In a separate statement, the school said it became impossible to provide all the services of a college—from admissions offices to Title IX—with a student body of less than 300 people. The school will be ending extracurricular activities after this academic year.

The school intends to keep 85 percent of the faculty through 2025, though some will be laid off after June 2024. It was not immediately clear how many faculty members will stay on after 2025 to continue with the non-degree educational programs.

There are around 7,000 alumni of PAFA around the United States and abroad. Notable graduates of the school include artists from Impressionist Mary Cassatt to painter Robert Henri. The American Realist painter and photographer Thomas Eakins, an alumnus of the school, served as PAFA’s director beginning in 1882. Other notable alumni include painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the school’s first Black students, as well as the sculptors Alexander Milne Calder and his son Alexander Stirling Calder, and Mother Goose illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith.

More recently, in 2017, PAFA alumnus Njideka Akunyili Crosby of Nigeria was honored with a MacArthur Grant. Her 2013 portrait of Thelma Golden, chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Much of PAFA’s legacy relates to its welcoming treatment of women over its storied history. As early as 1844, women artists were invited to have study time at the academy and by 1868, they could participate in live nude model classes. In comparison, the École des Beaux-Arts in France did not allow women to attend its classes until 1897.

PAFA’s museum was also branded a “pioneer” by the 2019 Burns Halperin Report for using the proceeds of its $40.5-million sale of Edward Hopper’s East Wind Over Weehawken (1934) to buy more works by women and Black artists.


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