Over 600 students will have to figure out how and where to finish their degrees.
The Art Institute of Seattle will close abruptly on Friday, leaving about 650 students in the lurch — without classes, professors, or possibly diplomas.
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), a state regulation agency, announced the end of the school’s tenure on Wednesday, just over two weeks before the winter quarter was supposed to end.
Sarah Fuad, 21, moved from Saudi Arabia in 2016 to study fashion design, and was one quarter away from finishing her degree. She was on track to finish a year early — but now, if she doesn’t find a new school, she says she’ll need to leave the U.S. within 60 days.
Fuad said she feels broken. She said, “I’d rather die than go back home with nothing.”
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Fuad said her father has spent more than $100,000 on tuition and even more paying for her rent. Her family planned to come to the U.S. for her graduation. By Wednesday, Fuad had already applied to another school.
The Art Institutes, a group of art colleges nationwide, has struggled with financial troubles for years; the company that owned them went bankrupt in 2017 and Dream Center Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit, bought the schools. Court filings show that since the purchase, the schools have grappled with financial issues.
In WSAC’s Wednesday press release, Deputy Director Don Bennett disagreed with Dream Center Foundation’s abrupt decision to close, calling it “deeply troubling and disappointing.”
“It’s incredibly frustrating and distressing to students and it completely disrupts their education,” Bennett said. WSAC will hold information fairs for AI Seattle students on March 12 and 13 and work with around 30 colleges and universities to help transfer credits, waive some graduation requirements and possibly develop a “teach-out,” where students could finish an Art Institute degree through coursework at another school.
Blair Brown, 27, planned to finish her bachelor’s at the institute, studying graphic design, this summer. She and her brothers, who helped pay for her education, spent $39,000, and she’s unsure if she can get this last quarter’s tuition back. She works full time at Amazon Go as an employee trainer.
“Now that we’re closing this quarter, all the work I did … none of that matters,” Brown said. “I’m a pretty confident person, but even me, faced with this, I feel like I was scammed, like I was stupid.”
Brown isn’t sure what she’ll do next; she knows teach-outs could be offered, but “I don’t know who in their right mind wants to have Art Institute of Seattle on their résumé, trying to get a job after this,” Brown said.
The art school’s history in Seattle traces back to 1946, when it was a private school known as the Burnley School of Art.
The closure comes after months of troubles that seeped into public view. In October, the Art Institute of Seattle laid off most of its full-time faculty as Dream Center announced 18 of the 31 Art Institutes campuses would close by the end of last year, including the Portland campus. WSAC notified Art Institute of Seattle campus director Lindsey Morgan Oliger of the school’s “at-risk” designation on Jan. 10 and prohibited it from enrolling new students.
Dream Center recently submitted a “substantive change proposal” to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an accrediting agency. The proposal stated that the corporation was “at risk of becoming financially insolvent” and is working with the U.S. Department of Education to preserve existing schools, according to WSAC.
Court records filed in Ohio by Dream Center paint a stark picture of the company’s finances: Dream Center closed its purchase of Argosy, Art Institutes and South Universities from Education Management Corporation in October 2017, with a secondary closing in January 2018, according to court documents filed Jan. 18 in a U.S. District Court in Ohio. Dream Center then claimed that within 60 days of that final closing date, it discovered actual revenues were tens of millions of dollars below what Education Management Corporation had projected, while overhead was significantly higher, according to the documents.
The Art Institute of Seattle and Dream Center did not respond to requests for comment.