“Cheated Out of My Dream”: An Art Institutes Online Horror Story
This story was sent to us by Jacob Helms, who attended the Art Institutes Online to pursue his dream of being a video game designer. If you are an Art Institutes student or alumni, please join I Am Ai on Facebook, we are building a movement for loan forgiveness! Also, be sure to check out Debt Collective, and if you would like to also tell your student debt story, connect with us at AiJustice@AngryMillennials.com.
Dick Durbin, the democratic Senator from Illinois, referenced Jacob’s story in a speech:
“In November of 2006 I had begun looking for a school that I could attend after my normal work schedule to pursue my dream of being a video game designer. I had seen an ad for the Art Institute online and had found it in a couple of different articles selling it as ‘financially cheaper than other video game design schools’. I looked through the curriculum and was very impressed.
I filled out an online form and in almost minutes I received an email from the Art Institute congratulating me on moving forward with my dream it felt great. Within the next day I received a phone call with all the information on the game design course. They informed me that the course itself was very tough and many people could not complete it. They told me it was a one of a kind education.
I was very concerned about the financial burden as I was only making around $26,000 at the time. I was informed that the student loans would cover the tuition not to worry. I was also told that they had a 90% hire rate after you completed the degree program. I thought great the price is a little steep but I’m guaranteed a job right out of college in my dream field and will make enough to pay back the loans, where do I sign.
I was immediately directed to the account creation and application process. After which I was told that they needed a copy of my high school transcripts as my GPA had to be over a certain number to enter the video game design program as the failure rate was so high. I sent the information to Andrea Spano and was told that my High School GPA was too low that I would need to enter their Associates in graphic design program to prove my GPA before being allowed into the Game Art and Design Course. I was assured that all the classes I would take would also be in the Video Game Art and Design course, so I would not incur any additional fees.
I then had to submit an essay stating my intent and was told to correct it to state that I wanted to enroll in Graphic Design with the intent of moving back into Game Art and Design, this way the “committee” would place me in classes that both programs had. I was instructed to do this by Andrew McAdams.
Unfortunately before too long I started to notice that I was not being placed back into the Game Art and Design course. I voiced my concerns to my Academic Advisor; Melissa Hammar after I had been placed in five courses and had not been moved into Game Art design even thought my GPA was high enough. I was informed that I needed to complete my transitional courses which are something I had not heard up until this point. I was also informed I had to submit a portfolio of artwork to be reviewed to see if I could enter the Game Art Design Course or not.
It took five more classes and then my portfolio review before I was able to enter the Game Art Design degree program. After which I thought the difficult spot was done. I took class after class until the summer of 2011.
I was in the middle of planning my wedding and had worked with my current teacher to make an effort to get all of my course work done before the wedding so I wouldn’t have to do any on my honeymoon. It was very stressful but I managed to pull it off. Shortly after the wedding I was set to take my next class.
On the week of July 22nd 2011 I had talked to my Academic advisor and Academic Counselor because I was unable to login to my new class and this was the third day. When your classes are only six weeks long a few days is a lot of time so I was very frustrated. My Academic Counselor was unsure why I was unable to login to my class. My Academic Advisor informed me that I was at my aggregate loan limit. This was the first time in five years at the Art Institute that I had heard this term. I asked for an explanation and my Academic advisor explained I was out of student loans. I wanted to know how this was possible as I was assured that student loans would pay for the entire program.
My Academic Advisor said she did not know how this happened and gave me some information on private loans when I failed to qualify for them due to too much debt to income from my student loans my Academic Advisor apologized and said she “had never seen this before”.
Shortly after I requested a degree audit and found that I had taken three classes right at the beginning of my enrollment that did not apply to Game Art Design. I immediately asked that they be removed and the money be applied to my next three classes in order to give myself some time to figure something out. It was sent to a committee to decide if I would be credited which I was not. Desperately I appealed the decision and was told on behalf of the Appeals Committee they would be unable to help me as the college “followed all policies and procedures related to my enrollment. The classes I mentioned were scheduled correctly as I was enrolled in the Graphic Design program when I took these classes. It was not until approximately 6 months later that I changed your major. At this time my request for an adjustment to the outstanding balance has been denied. “
Outraged by this I contacted the Ombudsman for the Art Institute. I received one automated response and was never contacted despite several email attempts.
I then went on to contact the Dean of Student Affairs Nadine Josephs. She relayed me to the Acting Associate Dean of Online Programs Matthew Falcone which ended in a series of phone and email tag. After which he refused to talk about anything related to the transfer of credits between the Game Art Design and Graphic Design courses deeming the conversation over.
Frustrated at this level I contacted my Academic advisor to find out how much I needed to complete the program. I was quote $30,000 more. I was unable to come up with this amount and was removed from the school as a student.
I felt lied to, cheated of my dream to become a video game designer
I went on to contact the Department Of Justice who directed me to the Department of Education who currently was in a law suit with EDMC over unmanageable debt and predatory lending. I sent several emails and made many phone calls but was told there was nothing they could do to help that I should contact my local congressman
The next step I took was to email my state senator for my district. I contacted Senator Dick Durbin. I received an automated message stating that I would be hearing back from them. I did end up hearing from them and my issue even got some air time on C-Span. [Video posted above]
After this Video I was hoping it would gain some motion but to my dismay it has not. I have spent innumerable amount of time attempting to get this worked out. I have sent letters and made phone calls to the White House, Senator Mark Kirk neither of which did I receive any response. I have met with and consulted over fifteen lawyers all of which had a similar response “This is simply out of my depth”.
I now sit with over $75,000 in debt and no degree, No job prospects. I hope that this story helps other share theirs so we can bond together and end this.”