And another American campus announced it would shut down, which is a phrase I’m getting far too used to typing. The Memphis College of Art (Wikipedia) will shortly close its doors to new students (official announcement) and see off its last students in early 2020.*
It’s a small institution, like many approaching closure, merger, or radical reorganization, enrolling around 800 students.
One of the causes for this closure is all too familiar to my readers: declining enrollment. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal,
Enrollment for the current school year was an unexpectedly low 307 (including 25 graduate students), a drop from about 380 in recent years and from a historic high of close to 450…
Recall that for a private institution without a massive endowment, the bulk of revenue comes from student tuition.
As the number of students declines, so does the chance of sustainability.
Another cause is a bit unusual, although familiar to those who followed the Cooper Union story: real estate problems. The official statement cites “overwhelming real estate debt” as one reason in addition to enrollment. MCA seems to have borrowed to expand, and the move backfired.
All causes combined, MCA sees itself having “no viable long-term plan for financial sustainability”.
This is a case where the academic event has serious local ramifications. MCA has had a great deal of influence on the region’s art scene and public spaces. Here’s one lyrical column. As Josh Kim puts it,
the closing of MCA is a huge loss to the city of Memphis. This is a school that has educated the creative class in which our culture depends. The closing of this private college is a public loss.
Nearby liberal arts college is not interested in taking over the location, apparently.
What can we learn from this, with an eye on the future of education?
Some quick notes:
- Small scale might be emerging as a weakness in the American setting, unless backed up by great wealth or external support.
- The arts, along with the humanities, are vulnerable.
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- Mergers aren’t always available as an option (from the announcement: “Is Memphis College of Art merging with another college? No”).
- Real estate can be an Achilles Heel.
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- Community support isn’t necessarily sufficient for sustainability.
*My apologies for not posting this earlier. Travel schedule has been insane.
(via Scott Robison on Twitter; thanks to my friends in the Bluff City for extra help)
I grew up in Memphis and attended both U of M and Rhodes College. Memphis College of Art filled a niche neither school met, so it’s sad to see it is closing. I suspect the Cooper-Young district will be hit pretty hard by its departure.
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