Former students of the Art Institute of Seattle, still in shock from the school’s sudden closure last week, are now having to plan their next steps.
Some of the school’s approximately 650 students gathered at an information fair Tuesday organized by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), a state regulatory agency. There, in the ballroom of The Edgewater hotel, students waited for more than an hour to get their transcripts in a line that wrapped around the room and spilled into a hallway.
Students said they were shocked by the school’s closure Friday, two weeks before the end of winter quarter. Dream Center Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit that bought the school from its bankrupt former owner, had insisted the Seattle campus would remain open, even in the face of warning signs, such as large staff layoffs.
But on Wednesday, WSAC announced the impending closure of the Art Institute of Seattle. The school had roots in the city dating back to 1946, when it was a private art school before being bought by Education Management Corporation in the 1980s.
Don Bennett, deputy director of WSAC, said students would still receive credit for the classes they took this quarter. Those who were scheduled to graduate this quarter received transcripts reflecting that they completed their program.
Others weren’t so lucky.
David Morgan-Willis was one quarter away from receiving his degree in animation and media arts. He had studied at the school since 2010, frequently taking time off to earn money for tuition.
Now, he’s hoping to transfer to the Seattle Film Institute, which is customizing a program for students with only one quarter left. The school’s president, David Shulman, said those students will be guaranteed to graduate within a quarter.
Morgan-Willis is grateful for the opportunity, but he said he was disappointed his degree will likely be in motion graphics, not animation. And the switch still stings.
“I put almost a decade into this school,” he said.
Questions remain for many students. A few close to graduating were told they could test out of remaining classes, but they didn’t see that reflected on their transcripts and are now trying to contact Dream Center. Veterans who used GI Bill benefits worried the process to get reimbursed would be long. Other students said they’re anxious about how their credits will transfer.
The Art Institute of Seattle was regionally accredited, which should help students transfer, Bennett said. But ultimately, it’s a conversation between the school and student on a case-by-case basis.
Around 30 regional schools attended the info fair, and representatives said their administrators hoped to be as accommodating to former Art Institute students as possible. But some representatives said students’ graduations could be set back, depending on their situation.
On top of the stresses of transferring, international students are facing a looming deadline to find a new school or be sent back home.
Yiao Ding, from China, studied graphic design at the school for three months and now has 60 days to get accepted at a new school. At the info fair, her arms were full as she carried pieces of her artwork between booths.
The department chair of Central Washington University’s art program offered her a $2,000 tuition waiver on the spot, which he wrote on the back of his business card. But Yiao hopes to stay in Seattle. It’s where she’s made a home and life for herself.
“As an international student, they could have told me before that the school would close,” she said. “How can a school just close?”
WSAC had watched the Art Institute of Seattle closely in the past few months, declaring it at risk of closure in January. The agency struggled to get transparency from the nonprofit’s parent company, which operated schools in multiple states, Bennett said. The company’s dire financial situation came to light in court documents filed in Ohio earlier this year.