Democratic lawmakers to introduce bill increasing transparency for institutions of higher education

Plan to host Monday public hearing on the UArts closure

HARRISBURG, June 13 – State Reps. Ben Waxman, D-Phila., and Bob Merski, D-Erie, announced today that they will be introducing legislation to help prevent abrupt closures of higher education institutions in Pennsylvania.

This announcement comes roughly one week after the sudden closure of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

This legislation would require colleges or universities to provide financial information yearly if they receive commonwealth funds or federal funds distributed by the commonwealth. The lawmakers believe that this proposal would ensure transparency for the commonwealth, students, and staff of higher education institutions and continued good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

The University of the Arts is located in Waxman’s legislative district, covering center city Philadelphia.

“When I heard about UArts’ closure, I immediately shared feelings of anger and disappointment with the students who won’t have the same school to attend and faculty who will be losing their jobs,” Waxman said. “I want to ensure no student or school faculty member in Pennsylvania has to go through what those at UArts are going through right now. By requiring these schools to regularly notify us of their financial information, we can create greater accountability and transparency across the board.”

The lawmakers say that having this information from schools on a yearly basis helps the legislature, schools, students, and faculty plan ahead in two ways under the unfortunate circumstance a school impends closure.

  1. It can give the legislature time to intervene and possibly help prevent a school from closing.

  1. If a school must close, it can give their students and faculty a well-timed, non-abrupt notification, allowing them more time to adjust their future education and career plans.  

“Higher education is in transition, and we see an increase in schools closing, some abruptly, leaving students and staff uncertain about their futures,” Merski said. “This impacts families across the commonwealth. By requiring Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions to keep the state apprised of their financial condition, our bill would provide an opportunity for the state to intervene and assist before a school has to shut its doors.”

State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said that academic institutions and their students in Pennsylvania should be able to turn to the legislature when facing issues.

“All students, whether in public or private institutions, are commonwealth students. When they face issues, they turn to the commonwealth for solutions," Harris said. “As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This legislation would ensure that as a matter of public policy.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., who serves as chairwoman of the Philadelphia House Delegation, offered her support of this proposed legislation in light of The University of the Arts’ closure.

“Institutions of higher education are pillars of culture and economic engines for our communities. The University of the Arts was no different, so this abrupt closure is felt across so many levels,” Cephas said. “Had we known the severity of their problems, we might have been able to step in and help to some degree. That’s what this legislation is about and I’m happy to support this bill to protect the investment that students and families make in their future, ensure the vibrant culture of our city remains strong, and preserve higher education opportunities in our state.”

Waxman, the House Democratic Policy Committee and members of the Philadelphia House Delegation will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. Monday, June 17 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19107 about The University of the Arts’ closure. They will also hear directly from students, faculty, and alumni of the school. The hearing will be livestreamed here.