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Post-Secondary Victimization: The Fall of Higher Ed

Updated: Jun 14

In the past few years, people have grown weary of post-secondary institutions' value and distrustful of their practices. Why? The question of value is closely aligned with the high number of students with college loan debt and post-graduate employment that does not pay livable wages (Hammond et al., 2023; Knot, 2024). During the pandemic, the mistrust grew even more due to the tuition rates remaining unchanged or being raised (Dickler, 2021) despite the switch to virtual modes of education. Furthermore, college students worldwide participated in protests and activism in response to social injustices in the United States. Meanwhile, post-secondary administrators remained silent for an extended duration to indicate they did not know how to respond to the societal turmoil to directly impact their campuses. Even in the present, US colleges and universities are spotlighted in the news due to their lack of transparency and inability to substantiate post-secondary education's value.

college students standing on steps
college students standing on steps

In my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the University of the Arts closed its doors permanently on June 7th after being a fixture in the Philadelphia region for nearly 150 years. A week prior, enrolled students, faculty, and administrators were notified of the pending closure, including the revoking of its accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and scrambled to figure out their next steps (Boucher, 2024; Martinez-Valle et al., 2024). The top-level officials demonstrated insensitivity and a lack of compassion due to the announcement being made a week before the closing. Additionally, the scheduled town hall meeting was canceled to not allow those impacted to have a voice in a situation that directly impacts them (Martinez-Valle et al., 2024). It's a slap in the face to those who served the institution as employees and to those who trusted the institution to follow through with their initial promises. The level of mismanagement and no accountability to the victims is unjust. But, this is not the first time post-secondary institutions have victimized students and stakeholders due to a lack of integrity and transparency.

Two regional post-secondary art institutions have been closed before the University of the Arts to share similar circumstances: the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Hussian College. Both for-profits closed their doors abruptly and permanently, Hussian College in May 2023 and the Art Institute of Philadelphia in August 2019, due to reported financial-related issues and a decline in enrollment (Jones, 2023; Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2024). However, the Art Institute of Philadelphia was found by the state and federal departments of education to have misled and defrauded students based on manipulating data to market their institutions. Therefore, in May 2024, the Biden administration canceled the loan debt of students who attended the Art Institutes, totaling $6 billion (Binkley, 2024).

That said, I empathize with the students, faculty, and administrators. I empathize with the students who are now in student loan debt and have no degree. I empathize with faculty and administrators who are now unemployed and possibly unable to make ends meet for themselves and their families. I empathize with these people who had their security and stability ripped away by an institution they mistakenly trusted. 

As a mental health counselor, those impacted should expect to experience grief and loss symptoms due to the abrupt loss of their security, stability, education, parts of their identity, and finances. There could be symptoms of depression, sadness, anger, guilt, isolation, numbness, and rumination about what could have been done differently. Hopefully, the loss of education, employment, or finances will be temporary, but there is no guarantee. The losses could have a long-term impact if the necessary support and resources are unavailable or inaccessible to those directly impacted by this loss. 

I recommend the following to those who have been directly impacted by this injustice:

  • Connect with positive supports and avoid isolation - Positive supports can be family and close friends who you can openly talk about your thoughts and feelings on this stressful situation.

  • Consider seeking out mental health counseling - It may also be helpful to seek mental health counseling to help with voicing your story and how it has impacted you. Mental health counseling can also assist with processing and accepting the situation, identifying the next steps to best move forward, and reconstructing your identity.

  • Obtain the information for available resources - Ensure you have the contact information for all available resources. You might not want to think about the next steps at this time due to your immense grief and stress. However, when you are ready to start looking for ways to best move forward, being able to reach out to resources for information or to gain further connections will be helpful. For example, Moore College of Art and Design and Temple University offer streamlined transfer services and support to UArts students impacted by the recent closure.

  • Ask for help - Let's say you're at the point where you want to move on and put this mess behind you. Consider asking someone who is reliable, trustworthy, and responsible to assist you with obtaining information, considering options, and ultimately deciding the best course of action. When emotions are high, it's best not to make hasty decisions. Therefore, if you know a trustworthy person who can help guide you and who will consider your best interest, I would advise asking that person for assistance.

  • Consider legal action, if applicable - If you are a laid-off employee of UArts, you may be eligible to seek legal counsel and to proceed with legal action. A class action lawsuit has reportedly been filed against the University of the Arts. Lastly, it is obvious that these colleges primarily taught students in the arts, design, and media. If the insurmountable issues reported by these universities as reasons for their closures are true, for example, low enrollment rates and significant loss in revenue, I find this troubling. I consider the lesser value that society places on the arts compared to other majors, such as STEM. Last year, the actor's strike highlighted struggling actors' daily plight to live after graduating from prestigious performance art programs or having notable experience. They struggled with low wages, unemployment, underemployment, and overall instability. Yet, these issues are common in the performing and fine arts, communication studies, media, education, and human services sectors. So, I question society's role in these closures due to Americans' beliefs about the lesser value of arts, media, and design in our society. I surmise that the problem is the fall of humanity with its decline in inclusive values, increased prejudiced and discriminatory beliefs, and absence of personal accountability, morality, and compassion. 



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a clinical mental health counselor and an educator. I have been in private practice for almost a decade. During this time, I have encountered hundreds of individuals to listen to their narratives and to help them heal in some way. Additionally, I have my own story. I hope to weave takeaways and lessons learned over the years from these interactions and from my personal life into informative and thought- provoking posts. 

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