Special Reports

Delaware College of Art and Design Closes Due to Financial Challenges and FAFSA Issues


The Delaware College of Art and Design (DCAD) has recently revealed that it will be closing soon due to major financial difficulties worsened by decreasing student enrollment, increasing operational expenses, and unexpected complications with the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) rollout.  

This decision, revealed by DCAD officials last week, marks a critical moment for the institution, which has struggled to maintain financial stability amidst a rapidly changing educational landscape.

Delaware College of Art and Design Closes Due to Financial Challenges and FAFSA Issues

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / John Phelan)

Financial Challenges and Enrollment Decline

The primary factors contributing to DCAD's closure include a steady decline in student enrollment over the past several years and increasing operational costs that have outpaced the college's revenue. According to the Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), DCAD enrolled 129 students in fall 2022, a significant drop from its peak of 247 students in fall 2011. This downward trend in enrollment has severely impacted the college's ability to sustain its programs and support its educational mission.

President Jean Dahlgren emphasized the difficulty of the decision in the closure announcement. She conveyed that the decision to close was made after careful consideration and extensive efforts to find alternatives. The significant decline in enrollment over the past several years and projections for the upcoming school year have made it impossible to sustain the college's educational mission and programs. Despite the Board of Trustees' diligent efforts to secure other funding solutions, none could address the persistent issue of insufficient student numbers. 

READ MORE: Student Awareness Lags As FAFSA Challenges Persist: Survey Reveals 1 In 5 Uninformed Or Unconcerned About Changes 

Impact of FAFSA Rollout Issues

The recent rollout of the simplified FAFSA has introduced additional challenges for institutions like DCAD. Experts have warned that technical glitches and delays in the new FAFSA system could lead to an enrollment crisis, affecting the ability of students to secure necessary financial aid. DCAD appears to be the first institution to explicitly link its closure to issues with the new FAFSA system.

DCAD officials noted that unexpected problems with the FAFSA rollout added another layer of difficulty to an already precarious situation. While the broader effects of these FAFSA issues are yet to be fully realized across higher education, DCAD's experience underscores the potential impact of administrative and technical disruptions on small colleges and their students.

A History of Financial Struggles

Publicly available financial documents reveal that DCAD has been operating at a loss for six of the last ten fiscal years. These financial struggles have been compounded by the college's inability to attract and retain enough students to support its operations. The combination of declining enrollment and insufficient revenue has created a challenging environment for the institution, ultimately leading to the decision to close.

DCAD's closure reflects broader trends in higher education, where many small colleges and universities are grappling with similar financial pressures. Rising costs, changing demographics, and shifting student preferences are forcing institutions to rethink their strategies and, in some cases, consider merging with other schools or closing altogether. The situation at DCAD highlights the vulnerabilities faced by small, specialized institutions that may not have the financial reserves or diverse revenue streams to weather prolonged periods of financial instability.

The closure of the Delaware College of Art and Design is a poignant reminder of the financial challenges confronting many higher education institutions today. Declining enrollment, rising costs, and external factors such as the troubled rollout of the new FAFSA have created an untenable situation for DCAD. As the college prepares to close its doors, the impact on students, faculty, and the broader community will be significant. DCAD's experience serves as a case study in the complex interplay of factors that can lead to the closure of a higher education institution and raises important questions about the future of small colleges in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.

RELATED ARTICLE: Department Of Education Implements Temporary Fix For FAFSA Social Security Glitch, Benefits Mixed-Status Families 

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