Is there declining interest in the Philadelphia Experience?

The Philadelphia Experience will be updated according to interest for next year after two successful semesters.

Brian Thomas

The Philadelphia Experience is going through some changes.

According to Kelly Sorensen, interim associate dean and chair of the Philadelphia Experience working group, the program will not run next spring. This is because of a lower than anticipated amount of interest in the program, where Ursinus students live, study, and work in Philly for a semester.

Sorensen called the decision to nix the spring semester a “late game audible.” He said that there had originally only been about 10 applicants before the announcement went out that the spring option was off the table. After that, applications quickly rose, and the program had enough interest for the fall semester.

“We assumed we had the same level of interest for year two, but applications were down,” he said. “And as I looked at the pattern I saw a lot of underclassmen, a lot of first- and second- years applying, and they were only trickling in.”

Sorensen said that what will likely happen is that the program will morph from one that runs in the fall and spring into one that runs in the fall and summer. The fall semester program would look similar to the program currently running, where students take classes and have an internship. The summer option, however, will likely not involve classes, and be more geared towards internship and networking opportunities, according to Sorensen.

Sorensen said that the changes don’t stem from a reduced interest in the program among students. Instead, he said that he thinks that it stems from students’ commitment to their on-campus activities and academic progress. In particular, he said that the program has had trouble attracting student athletes and students involved in Greek life, since they are often wary of being away from those activities for a whole semester.

This makes the summer option more accessible, he said. Because of these complications, he felt that the program had “tapped out” the interested and available population.

“What we realized was that a lot of students who want to go to Philly want to do it when they can do it, and that is often summer,” he said. “So what we are shifting to is fall and summer.”

Applications have decreased from the first semester, though. In the fall of 2016, 34 students applied, 16 were accepted and 15 participated. This semester, 21 applied, 18 were accepted, and 16 participated. The final application count for next fall was 24 applicants, with 17 accepted. As of press time, it wasn’t confirmed how many of those 17 were going to participate.

The summer program also won’t require extra-tuition for students, according to Sorensen, since it most likely won’t offer classes. While it is still in the early stages of planning, Sorensen said that it will likely be more geared towards students who are already going to be in Philly for internships or work, and therefore won’t require housing.

The change in the program also impacts the housing options for students who enroll in the future fall semesters. Currently, UC students in Philly live in The Summit, a student housing complex owned by Drexel University in West Philly. Sorensen is still working on the details of the housing for next fall, but said that Drexel had offered accommodations.

One student who re-arranged their plans after the spring semester was cancelled was Angela Bey. Bey, who lives in Philly when they’re not living on campus throughout the academic year, said that they had originally wanted to go in the spring, but decided to make it work in the fall because the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“Part of what drew me to the Philadelphia Experience was the ability I would have to expand [my connection to the city], particularly in the performing arts in Philadelphia,” said Bey. “I really wanted to get more involved, and this distance from Ursinus, this sort of two-hours-on-SEPTA kind of deal doesn’t really work for that.”

Still, Bey was worried about many of the things Sorensen suspected were preventing students from applying in the first place.

“I was kind of wary of missing the theater department on campus. I know we’re doing a musical in the fall, and that was part of the reason why I wanted to do it in the spring,” said Bey. “But then I quickly realized that I can always do musicals, and what is going to be more important for me to do is really develop the relationships in Philadelphia so after graduation I have something to go to.”

Another student who recently signed onto Philly X for next fall is Emmett Cawley, a junior who was, up until the last minute, torn between Philadelphia and a similar study-away program in Washington D.C. called the Washington Internship Institute. He said that the newness of Philly X is ultimately what swayed him.

“Philly X is something that, because it is less established, you have a lot more flexibility,” he said.

Cawley also speculated that students likely were not applying as much because of a fear of missing out on campus.

“I think generally the problem that Ursinus runs into with students is that students don’t want to leave campus, and they get kind of into a bubble,” he said. “And I’ve been abroad already, so I guess you could say I’ve popped that bubble. I’ve never really cared too much about being on campus. Everyone is nice here, but I like to do new things and see new things.”

While it is too late to enroll in the Philadelphia Experience for next semester, interested students should be on the lookout for more details on the summer program and how to apply for it.

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