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Colleges and Universities Education New Castle County News

DCAD to close in upcoming weeks

Katie Tabeling

The Delaware College of Art and Design in Wilmington will close its doors for good after this year, citing declining enrollment and the shrinking pool of college students. | DBT FILE PHOTO

After 27 years of opening its doors, the Delaware College of Art and Design (DCAD) will close permanently and will no longer teach students.

DCAD will be winding down operations in the coming weeks and will no longer be offering classes or awarding degrees for the 2024-2025 school year. In a letter written to students and faculty, DCAD President Jean Dahlgren said the decision was “not made lightly” and done with “a heavy heart.”

“[DCAD] sought every possible avenue to avoid it. Our declining enrollment numbers over the last several years and for the upcoming school year have prevented us from adequately supporting our educational purposes and programs,” Dahlgren wrote in the letter. “The Board of Trustees has worked diligently to find other funding solutions, but none allow us to overcome the longer-term problem of too few students.”

DCAD had 110 students enrolled in 2021 and 107 students as of early 2024, according to Delaware Business Times records. The shrinking pool of college-age students, rising costs and declining enrollment were all cited by college officials as reasons behind the decision. 

Another problem was the fumbled rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which thousands of students in the United States rely on. Roughly 90% of DCAD students receive some form of financial aid with about 60% of those students hailing from Delaware.

“Our entire team is very proud of our 27-year history of educating and training the next generation of designers and artists, and we are working together through this challenging but necessary transition to uphold our legacy and to do what is best for our students,” Dahlgren wrote.

DCAD first opened on Market Street in 1997 after the Wilmington Renaissance Corp. was searching for ways to jump start the downtown culture and draw people to the city’s heart. The organization was inspired after a visit from Savannah, Ga., where they saw how the Savannah College of Art and Design had left a lasting impression.

Storied institutions like the Pratt Institute in New York City and the Corcoran School of Design in Washington, D.C. agreed to partner on curriculum, faculty and programming. The first DCAD class graduated in 1992.

In 2014, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education directed DCAD to become independent of its founding partners. DCAD had 25 staff members and dozens of part-time professors in recent years, and it offered degrees in animation, fine arts, graphic design, illustration, and photography. Two years ago, DCAD launched a 12-week online program to teach product design.

Recently, DCAD had been offloading some of its real estate in downtown Wilmington. In 2021, it sold its historic Saville residence hall for $3.3 million and later a residence hall on King Street for $3.5 million.

The college has partnered with the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCA&D) and Moore College of Art & Design to offer streamlined direct admission for current DCAD students as well as students DCAD accepted for next school years.

Representatives from both colleges will be on DCAD campus’ on May 30 and May 31 to answer questions and to assist with the transfer process. Dahlgren and the DCAD Board of Trustees are working with the Middle States Commission for Higher Education and the Delaware Department of Education on a final teach-out and wind down plan.

“We recognize your contributions to our community over the years. I am personally grateful for all you have done to support DCAD and our students,” she said.

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