The For-Profit Failure of Art Institutes: Stories from Students, Teachers, and Admissions Staff
A few weeks ago, we featured an article about the for-profit college crisis which has stolen the economic futures of thousands of students who were only trying to better their lives through education, traditionally seen as an equalizer in American society. The piece focused first on the closure of Corinthian Colleges, the myriad of investigations against the school, and the debt refusal campaign of the Corinthian 100, before comparing the struggles of these students with the Art Institutes, and EDMC-owned schools.
Last Wednesday, EDMC announced that within the next few years, fifteen Art Institute campuses will be closed, signaling the next chapter of the for-profit college crisis. While this can certainly be seen as a victory for opponents of these exploitative overpriced degree mills, as future students won’t be lured into their low-quality education debt trap, what does this mean for current and past students?
According to the official statement from EDMC:
“Our primary concern is ensuring that currently enrolled students receive a high-quality education that will equip them with the skills and expertise they need to earn a meaningful return on their educational investment.” This sounds good if taken at face-value, but as we’ve seen, EDMC is more concerned with the number of students they can enroll and the loans these students take out, rather than the quality of their education programs.”
One question that many former students are probably asking is: Can my loans be forgiven if my school closes? In theory, this makes sense. If you are paying a mortgage on your house and it burns down, do you need to continue to pay for it? Hypothetically, the answer would be no, assuming that you took out an insurance policy which included fire damage. However, students who absorbed the misleading post-graduation employment numbers touted by these schools don’t have any insurance policy at all. In fact, student debt is usually not even dischargable in bankruptcy, leaving these people with no option but to keep paying for an education that they can never benefit from.
Below is the discharge criteria for most federal loans, including Direct, FFEL, and Federal Perkins Loans:
As you can see, unless you withdraw from these schools within 120 days before their closure, and decide not to transfer to another school to continue your education you will have to pay the full amount of your loans from your Art Institutes education, despite having very little to show for it.
In our last article, we mentioned how the Department of Justice filed a complaint because “EDMC falsely certified compliance with provisions of federal law that prohibit a university from paying incentive-based compensation to its admissions recruiters that is tied to the number of students they recruit.” We wanted to dive deeper into the practices of Art Institutes, demonstrating how they warrant the same attention as Corinthian and make the case for full debt forgiveness for all EDMC students.
A quick reading of the myriad of lawsuits against EDMC sheds some light on why their concern about students gaining skills to earn a “meaningful return on their educational investment” is complete and utter bullshit.
One of the more disgusting lawsuits involves EDMC recruiting veterans who were eligible for college funding via the GI Bill, misleading them on post-graduate employment numbers, and actually under-reporting their income and assets so that they could receive more aid from the federal government.
“At its most basic level, (EDMC’s) business is not that of an educational institution. It is a sales company. Defendants place virtually no stock in providing students with quality educational services and therefore are not entitled to participate in the federal financial aid program.”
Another investigation by a United States Senate committee corroborated the claim that EDMC was valuing profit over students, spending more money on marketing and recruiters than the actual course material for enrolled students. Additionally, “The investigators calculated that EDMC had some of the highest student withdrawal rates in the industry. More than 62 percent of students who enrolled in 2008 or 2009, they said, had withdrawn two years later.”
In 2012, Jason Sobeck, a former admissions executive, filed a lawsuit in which he claimed that “EDMC trained recruiters to avoid talking about how much a degree would actually cost. He also claims the company had two sets of job placement statistics – one for the accrediting agency and another with higher percentages that was given to potential students.”
The heartbreaking first-hand accounts of students who were tricked into enrolling in one of the Art Institutes also supports the claims made in these lawsuits. In an article from Generation Progress from earlier this year, Thomas Bowen, who enrolled in the Art Institute of Washington in 2006 as a graphic design major, describes his enrollment process:
“What raised a red flag for me was when I was barely needed for any of the process, save for signing dotted lines and carrying papers from office to office. Nothing was explained to me, nothing was conveyed in a way that helped me understand what was going on with loan terms, amounts, interest rates, nothing.”
Students are frequently left in the dark about the process of taking out loans, likely so they don’t ask too many questions or have second thoughts about signing away their financial futures.
Another article featured in the Missoulian details the story of Brendan Bieri, who attended the Art Institute of California, majoring in video game design. He was told by recruiters that animators from Disney would be working with him in the program, and that 95% of students landed a job immediately after graduation. Think about it, if you wanted to jump-start a career in the video game industry and had no degree or experience, wouldn’t this program seem like a good option? Three years and $90,000 in student loans later and Brendan was unable to pay his debts or find a job in his desire career.
“He was like a used-car salesman,” Bieri, 31, said of the recruiter. “It was a high-pressure sale. I feel like everything I learned there I could have learned on YouTube.”
Amy Kaplan, a former photography student from the Art Institute of Orange County, California had a similar experience, with unsatisfactory classes and secretive student loan agreements:
“Kaplan enrolled full-time, but immediately, things didn’t feel right. Some professors only taught for an hour or so even when a class had been scheduled to be much longer. She had to buy a pricey ‘art kit, “even though I wasn’t taking an art class.’ Odder still, twice Kaplan was called out of class and asked to type a password into the online federal financial-aid form and sign it, with no explanation. ‘They just said, ‘Sign here, or your classes won’t get paid for.’ It was dumb to sign things without reading them. But I was being asked to do it by people I thought were supposed to take care of students.'”
She transferred to the Art Institute of Hollywood, where a photography professor told her that getting the degree that she had been working diligently on meant nothing, and that she was better off finding an entry-level job. She withdrew and learned that she owed $34,000 in student loans, despite being told by the counselors that they were grants. She represents another victim of for-profit education that will be paying off her debt for decades.
Another story is from James, who asked a question to Steven Rhode, known as the “Get Out of Debt Guy” on the Huffington Post. He attended the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, FL for game art/illustration from 2004 to 2006, and the Art Institute of Philadelphia from 2006 to 2007 for animation. While he finally earned a certificate in painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he was already saddled with so much debt that his future was ruined.
“I have a total of $114,113.50 of debt and absolutely do not have the funds to pay. I am a painter who cannot support myself on painting alone. I make on average $200.00 a month from paintings and I work 2 under the table jobs (8.00 an hour) just to make rent. I can’t afford to eat so I take leftovers from my restaurant job. My monthly minimum requirements are close to $2,700.00. I’ve gone into forbearance and have also tried to negotiate a lower monthly payment of $100.00 a month but Sallie Mae has refused and said that it was impossible.”
What advice did Steve have for him? Earn more income or attempt to declare bankruptcy and discharge the debt. While he shares one case where an Art Institute student was actually able to discharge their debt, this method is complicated, difficult to accomplish, and will still negatively impact credit scores. Unfortunately, this is the best advice that students of for-profit schools can hope for.
THE ADMISSIONS STAFF
Indeed, these admission officers are in-effect salespeople, rather than educational advisors. Almost 80% of EDMC’s profits are from tuition and grants, and their massive profit margins was the major reason behind the Goldman Sachs purchase in 2006. Once the major investment firm took over, there was an immediate shift in the culture of the Art Institutes, which was detailed in a extensive Huffington Post investigation. Much of the former admissions manager were replaced, and the total admissions staff tripled in size. Patrick Flynn, a recruiter at EDMC’s South Univerity, describes why he quit in 2009:
“It just got to the point where I felt like I was lying to these people on a regular basis. Honestly, I just felt dirty doing the things I was doing. It’s almost like they were trying to make me take advantage of people’s belief in what this education was going to get them, when I didn’t buy into it myself.”
Kathie Bittel, a former recruiter at Argosy University, also describes an experience that would seem more fitting for a call center, rather than a college admissions office.
“It was an absolute feeding frenzy. They were on us every minute of the day. We had managers and directors who were just literally circling the pods, listening to every word that was spoken. I swear I thought they were going to wear out the carpeting.”
As if these stories aren’t enough to convince you that the Art Institutes are solely in business to enroll as many students as possible, check out this disturbing recruitment guide obtained by the Huffington Post:
The economic futures of these students aren’t the only casualties of for-profit education. Lorna Hernandez, the chair of the Animation department at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, described how her school changed after the Goldman Sachs purchase. The school administration began to value profit over the students, a situation made worse once a new President was brought in despite being rejected by the faculty committee:
“According to Hernandez, the new president’s arrival ushered in a new era of dramatic cost reductions — in her words, ‘cut, consolidate, don’t question.’ She charges that the administration was cutting the school’s budget in ‘desperate and nonsensical ways’ — reducing the quality of toilet paper and paper towels, not buying staples for staplers. The school was selling its computers, closing its print center. Half of the technical staff was let go. Academic advisors were laid off. Adjunct professor pay was cut….In Fort Lauderdale, only one area was beefed up — the hiring of additional admissions staff. Recruiters were calling the same prospective student six times in a single day. One classroom was converted into an additional boiler room for recruiting.”
She finally retired after being pressured by the administration to pass all of her students, regardless of their academic performance.
Another teacher, Jeremy Dehn, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2010, speaking out about his experience as a teacher for film and video production in the Art Institute of Colorado. He detailed how many of his fellow teachers didn’t even have Masters degrees, usually a requirement for teaching at a College or University. Also, instructors at for-profit schools like the Art Institutes work more hours for lower pay than teachers at other schools. Many of his students would simply stop coming to class in the middle of the semester, which he attributes to open enrollment policies. In his words, “It’s disturbingly easy to get accepted, receive thousands of dollars in loans and then flunk out with crippling debt and no degree to show for it.” The op-ed ends with some valuable advice for the Department of Education and the U.S. Government:
“Of course we should crack down on for-profit colleges that exploit students and taxpayers. Education should lead students out of poverty, not into it. But that’s not enough. We need to quit subsidizing for-profit colleges, and instead devote our resources to expanding and improving the system of state and community colleges that work more effectively for a small fraction of the cost.”
These stories from teachers, admissions counselors, and students, are only a few of the thousands who have been involved in this unjust system which values profits for shareholders over the lives of the students who they are pretending to serve. We must build communities of resistance and fight until the Department of Justice forgives the student debt of ALL students of Art Institutes and other EDMC-owned schools. We are not paychecks and profit margins. We are not statistics. We are human beings who will no longer accept this dehumanizing form of vulture capitalism.
Have you ever been a student of the Art Institutes or another EDMC-owned school? Are you having trouble paying your debts and has it negatively impacted your life? We want to hear your story. Connect with us at AiJustice@Angrymillennials.com. We will be writing more articles about Art Institutes in the near future, including stories from students. Be sure to follow AiJustice on Facebook and Twitter, and sign this petition, asking for student loan forgiveness up to $70,000.
We are not a loan.