Antioch Branch To Close; Financial Problems Cited

Posted: June 25, 1988

The Philadelphia branch of Antioch University, an innovative school that gives no grades and offers credit for life experience, will close next June, university officials announced yesterday.

Antioch officials cited financial woes and a slipping accreditation in announcing the decision to close the learning center at 1811 Spring Garden St. No new admissions will be accepted at the learning center, which currently enrolls 501 students, said Alan E. Guskin, university president.

The Philadelphia learning center, which opened in 1967, offers undergraduate degrees in human services and master's degrees in administration and education.

The decision to close the Philadelphia school was made yesterday by Antioch's board of trustees during a meeting at the university's main campus in Yellow Springs, Ohio, officials said. The board also voted to close the university's San Francisco learning center, which has an enrollment of 240.

Learning centers in Keene, N.H., and Seattle and Antioch Southern California in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara will remain open, as will the core campus of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, officials said.

Guskin said he had recommended the closings to the board because putting more money into the two centers "would put at risk much of the successful work already completed at Antioch College" to save it from fiscal ruin. The closings mark the final phase of scaling back the school. The Antioch Law School in Washington, D.C., closed earlier this year, Guskin said.

"The problem is that both of these centers, we felt, needed a significant influx of money," said Jackson Kytle, vice president for academic planning who will be in charge of the closings.

Philadelphia, said Kyle, was geared toward the inner city.

"You have a good number of universities doing that now. It's not a unique a mission as it once was," Guskin said. "What we're doing in Philadelphia is a public university mission, and I think public universities should do that. It's unfortunate, but private colleges can't do it."

Without additional money, Guskin said, "the academic programs at San Francisco and Philadelphia cannot be maintained at acceptable levels."

Kytle estimated it would take more than $1 million during the next five years to create the necessary library and classroom facilities, expand the staff and improve pay.

There are about 80 full- and part-time faculty, said Philadelphia Provost Maurice Lee.

"I'm totally shocked at this development," said Lee. "I was unprepared for the president's recommendation and the board's approval."

Lee said he disagreed with the decision to close the Philadelphia learning center.

"I feel strongly that closing Antioch Philadelphia is a mistake," Lee said. "It is not my responsibility to address the larger picture and needs of the university, however, and it is the president's wishes which must be maintained."

When Guskin became president in 1985, he embarked on a mission to save Antioch College from financial ruin and said he would trim operations where necessary. He managed to reverse an $800,000 deficit when he took over to a $600,000 surplus.

Last year, following cutbacks in staffing, Guskin announced that the Philadelphia learning center was returning to financial health. But yesterday, following the announcements to close the Philadelphia and San Francisco learning centers, Guskin said that the savings had not been enough.

Lee said he felt Antioch would be missed in Philadelphia.

"Presently, I am at a loss to fully express all my feelings," said Lee. ''Our main concern now must be the students and how best to help them."

Current students at Philadelphia and San Francisco learning centers will be able to complete their programs, even if it takes two or three years, through a combination of a local mentor and transfer of credits through the Yellow Springs campus, Kytle said.

Founded in 1852 by Horace Mann, Antioch was among the pioneers of what is known as cooperative education, whereby students integrate work and classroom learning. Instead of grades, students receive narrative evaluations. They also can get academic credit for life experiences they have had before they enter the university. Students who have owned and operated their own small businesses, for instance, might get credit for accounting.

The Philadelphia branch of Antioch serves a student body composed primarily of black working women, including many professionals, who work at full-time jobs during the day. Classes are offered only in the evenings and on Saturdays.

School officials have said Antioch occupies a special niche in higher education by enabling working people to obtain college degrees in less time than in traditional programs.

While some former Antioch teachers, administrators and students have praised Antioch's unconventional approach to education, others have questioned what they described as uneven academic standards. Critics have contended that some students were allowed to graduate without basic skills while others remained stuck in the school for years because they could not get enough basic skills to graduate.

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