US Gov Sues The Art Institutes for $11 Billion Fraud

The Art Institutes, one of the nation’s largest for-profit school systems where people can receive an education in photography, has come under fire. Last month, the US Department of Justice filed a massive lawsuit against the company behind the schools, Education Management Corporation, accusing it of fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that students graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.

David Walker at PDN writes,

At the Art Institute of Pittsburgh campus alone, there were reportedly about 600 photography students pursuing a bachelor of arts or associates degree as of last summer, says Kathleen A. Bittel, the whistleblower whose testimony before a US Senate committee last fall helped trigger the federal lawsuit against EDMC.

[…] “Where are 600 photography graduates going to go? You cannot absorb that many in one city. How are they going to make money?” she says.

Bittel says EDMC had plans last summer to increase its photography student enrollment by adding a 12-15 month diploma to the program. The new degree was intended to attract students who wanted a “quick fix” in the form of a degree they could earn faster than an associate’s degree with minimal effort, Bittel says. “If the bachelors students can’t find jobs, where are the students with [12-month diplomas] going to go?”

One former student they contacted commented that, “It’s like they’re pumping photographers out like little cookie cutters.”

The Art Institutes: Legitimate Photo Schools or Accessories to Fraud? (via DWF)

Image credit: The Art Institute of California – San Francisco by sebastianjt

  • Guest

    Sounds like raw talent took you further than the art school ‘degree’. In your case, the school was just the catalyst.

  • Tod Orbach

    Not everyone is a prime recipient for subsidized education and Americans gobble up “no child left behind” rhetoric, teaching unions stall on reformation talks to end tenure for the chance to increase their salaries, while banks dish out larger chunks of debt causing feedback as for-profit colleges raise their tuition

    … not like this ever caused problems

  • NormanMaslov

    This is happening all over and not just in art schools. However as a photo agent I have never looked at a photographers resume or asked them initially where if anywhere they studied photography. It’s their portfolio. Their work and their personality

    Assist shoot take a couple of classes but you might be better off not looking to get a photography degree at all. Save your money. Or the governments.


  • NormanMaslov

    This is happening all over and not just in art schools. However as a photo agent I have never looked at a photographers resume or asked them initially where if anywhere they studied photography. It’s their portfolio. Their work and their personality

    Assist shoot take a couple of classes but you might be better off not looking to get a photography degree at all. Save your money. Or the governments.


  • weiner

    So did I in Ft. Lauderdale. I actually had a free ride in any Florida state University. After being accepted at UM and then seeing their old out of date labs for computer arts. I switched to the Art Institute and majored in computer animation. Then I got my MFA at Digital Media Arts college. I’m an artist at Honda America now. No University or specialized school can promise you a job when you’re done with your education. 

  • anon

    This is really, really, really bad journalism. Go find the facts. 

  • anon

    This is really, really, really bad journalism. Go find the facts. 

  • Z13mods

    Many of my fellow ex Ai friends have not gotten jobs in their major. Many either went on to other things or to real schools to get the education they needed to succeed. All the GE classes are BS. The major programs are ok depending on the teacher, some cared some didn’t. The job placement program they talk their asses off about only ever sent me stuff with 3-4 years field experience for a 2 yr major. many pro photographers don’t take fresh out of college photographers especially when they have the AI name on their backs! If I had it to do over again I would have went around the block to University of the Arts, or saved my $ to buy more equipment and just took community college courses. Most of the graduated/ dropped out Ai students I know warn against the school.

  • albanynyguy

    This has been going on for years–my question is why it’s taken this long to get around to them?

  • Addams13

    I am an instructor at a two year college and our Animation/Art programs are awesome.  Tuition is reasonable and all of our instructors are also industry professionals currently working outside of the school.

    I encourage anyone to look into their area community college to see if such a program exists there.  If not… find one that does.  Our classes are small so you get more personal attention, and you’re being taught by people who aren’t “just teachers” but professionals in the field as well.

  • Don Giannatti

    I am so relieved to read that ONLY private schools graduate people with massive student loans in fields that make it difficult to pay back.

    That doesn’t EVER happen in the universities. Nawwww… no way. Those kids graduating with photography degrees (hundreds and hundreds of them every year in Pennsylvania alone) will no doubt be ‘killin’ it and ‘chillin’ with the New York in crowd within a few months. Galleries will be opening up on every corner to sell the stuff that the artists, and graphic artists, and sculpturists and poets with degrees crank out.

    Sure… them Uni student loans are NO PROBLEMO to pay back – only the private schools are the problem.

    You betcha.

    Sure thing.

    Take it to the bank.

    If they are serious about this problem, they will go after the University system that cranks out degrees in 19th Century French Lit, Fashion Design, Journalism, “Communications (a perennial favorite), Photography, Sculpture, Music Theory and Comp (Hey – I gots one of them worthless fkn things) and more… oh so much more.

    But they aren’t serious. They are killing the competition for their cronies at the UNI’s. Yeah – that is EXACTLY what they are doing.

  • Chris

    I majored in photographer and just graduated from Academy of Art in San Francisco in May . 

    I moved to New York and am making excellent money and shoot for many international publications . 

    cry me river .

  • Chris

    I majored in photographer and just graduated from Academy of Art in San Francisco in May . 

    I moved to New York and am making excellent money and shoot for many international publications . 

    cry me river .

  • Anonymous

    You think female photographers don’t like to photograph naked models”? Hahahaha!

  • Anonymous

    You think female photographers don’t like to photograph naked models”? Hahahaha!

  • CrackedPepper86

    Graduated from Philadelphia. My AI got me an interview for a motion graphics design job with a notable sports team immediately after graduation. I’ve been there almost four years now.

  • CrackedPepper86

    Graduated from Philadelphia. My AI got me an interview for a motion graphics design job with a notable sports team immediately after graduation. I’ve been there almost four years now.

  • Lisa M Breslin

    Incidentally, my friend went to AI for a BA in Photography. He made it all the way to portfolio, had internships, worked with prominent photographers like Liz Von Hoene and Jim Fiscus only to be left without work. After graduation, numerous photographers wanted him to work pro bono for months on end. Sorry, but when you have bills — not to mention loans to pay back — you cannot continue to work for free. Even his few friends that completed the program cannot find work.

    I too graduated from AI. I was unemployed for eight months, and I continued with internships until I found a job. Much thanks to my mom, I didn’t have to worry about bills and where to live. That still does not make up for the incessant lies the school promises students.

    The recruiting practices, however, are deceitful and, at best, fraudulent. I worked in the tutoring lab with students who barely had a reading comprehension of fifth grade. One student couldn’t even do simple division, multiplication and algebra; but she was placed in a Culinary program. Does that make any sense to anyone? 

    In addition, the job placement numbers are a complete joke. If you are a audio major and you get a job working at Radio Shack, they count that as working in your field. 

    You cannot assert your position the program is all up to the students. At some level, the school is responsible for enrolling students capable of doing the work and giving them the edge needed for acquiring a job. AI falls short of the promises.

  • Carchick02

    Very poorly written article. You take a chance just like any other degree when you go to college for any degree. The article failed to take on the real issue at hand, meaning the accused lawsuit, by ranting about students who only wanted to try to follow their dreams; what school is to deny that. The hike of prices in private or public colleges makes it impossible to go to school without loans. 

  • Aloch Rye
  • Guest

    The point is that these schools should have limitations on the amount of students they can take. They should be looking for talent so they can ensure the student will go on to make money. it’s as if you say people who want to be olympic runners should be allowed to use tax payer money to pursue that dream, when they very clearly will never be at that place.

  • FormerBrookie

    I went to Brooks in Santa Barbara for Visual Journalism and Photography.  Its the same thing there.  They were sued a few years back after CEC bought them and were ordered to payback tuition to many students.

    I actually work locally for one of the better video job companies around, but I am the exception and it took me 10 years after school to get here.  I run into countless former students working in every field other than photography or journalism.  Kids are coming out of school owing more than the price of a mortgage and they’re just starting there career/life. 

    Art schools are awesome fun if you can afford it.  And I mean you are wealthy enough to where you don’t need a career and you can enjoy the process….and there is NOTHING wrong with that.  I personally don’t belong to that class and I certainly had no business going to that school.  I loved it,  but I could not afford it. 

    Education is important, but this country proves time and time again that we just don’t value education.  I have a philosophy degree and work as a journalist and director; I love it, but the degree and the brooks education did not get me that job.  With art, I recommend you find someone you admire who is doing what you want to do, latch onto them and you will learn more in 2-weeks with that person, than a year or two in art school. 

    Good luck to everyone who pursues their dreams.

  • Ray Long

    It isn’t “stealing their money” when they WILLINGLY attend and CHOOSE to pay tuition.  Nobody is making these hopeless art students attend AI.

  • Lisa Cal

    Dallas Art Institute needs to come under fire as well! Everything they ever told me was a lie, they told me the area we were in was safe that all the students were in one building in a complex that was community and college orientated. They said about 98% would have a job when they graduated that the teachers cared and would be hands on and make sure we understood everything. That they cared…and we kept telling housing that the area was unsafe and all they said was “Welcome to Dallas.” A classmate was murdered because they wouldn’t listen to us.

  • R0b

    I attend one of these schools. I know my major, I love it and I live it. That being said, yes, I’ve seen some of the most disgusting recruitment tactics. They lie heavily. To get you to enroll, they either call you out of the blue through your information from social networks/purchases etc. that is usedby 3rd party companies. Or, if you email them or request more INFORMATION, just information on the school, they WILL call to recruit you.

    Some kids even were told they’d have a job for them as soon as they came out here. Doing, something at least. These kids are coming from all over the place. I am from the East Coast, and I now live in California. Granted I learned a lot and I love my teachers/peers, have you EVER seen the tuition rates at a university in europe? It’s substantially cheaper and the value before/after you’re out of college goes steeper than canbe provided in the States. I’m going to be swimming in debt, for years. What sucks is the most is now it just feels like…people in America don’t want us to go to school or really don’t give a shit. These things are happening every single day, and not just here. Think of those other for-profit “accredited” schools. They’re all over the country. My school is making double on me as well as three other students by cramming 4 kids into 2 bedroom apartments, that really are only big enough for 2. Anyway I won’t say the name of the exact school, AI or not, because the monster corporation that owns the school would crush me if they ever read this

  • Rob

    There is no case. You simply failed English for not studying, because you clearly never paid attention. They test for basic english/math skills. I go to one of these schools. The english class wasn’t the hard. But then again. if you don’t know english, you probably won’t get much out of school here, because a lot of people like that don’t

  • Frank

    I go to this college right now. because of the lawsuit they had to lay off the people that help us find a job after we graduate. not like they helped us out anyways.  i saw some people with great talent still have trouble finding a job because ai has a bad name in the business field.  They are just producing cookie cutouts. i never seen so many close minded art students.  the teahers are always depressed. the dorms were an old parking lot with concrete floors.  And walking on concrete floors everyday damages your back.  Also they had bed bug infestation.  my dorm caught on fire and the sprinkler didnt go off. we had to put it out without any help from the RA.  They really do not care. they dont have enough supplies for animation students.  i had to build my own animation station at home and that was about 1k.  They only have one room for animation and its equipment isnt fully functional.  so yeah i hate that school because i fell into their scam. all that money only goes to edmc.  not even the teachers or faculty cause thier always complaining about not having enough money.  So thanks art institute for ruining my college years


    Every alleged photographer I’ve come across that goes to them schools can’t shoot for shit in natural light or with just a speedlight and can’t color balance or adust for color temprature on their camera. I guess the cameras’ manual is not one of their textbooks.

  • Jdanbear7

    How is it like pumping out cookie cutters? Every school has similar programs across the country not just AI. Teacher degrees, do you think every teacher is going to get a job right away? Not in this economy. What about the students taking forensic science? A select few might get the job they want in the field but will it even be what they think it is? Most likely not. 

  • Tripfisk

    1) Every AI school is basically different. They are owned by the same company thus the same name, but they are ran differently, they are not technically “sister schools,” they are all together separate schools. Example would be you can’t go to the AI in Chicago and just step up and transfer everything to the AI in California, they’re separate schools with different classes even for the same degree.

    2) Based on the knowledge about the AI school I know about – keeping in mind (1) that every AI school is different, students are definitely taught the skills they need to know. I’ve looked at programs at traditional university, they are nowhere near close to AI’s.

    3) AI has a high entry rate but not a high completion rate – people fail or drop out – AI is not the school to do soul searching for what you want to major in but people do it anyways.

    4) Tax money should be paying for schools in the first place. What’s the point of only paying for KA-12 then letting them lose when they get to the schooling that actually matters?

  • Tripfisk

    Based off the site you’re promoting in your user name you’re in no position to judge or critique anyone. My eyes are still bleeding from it.

  • me

    I knew they were full of
    fraud after less than a month of attending. No matter how much aid I
    received they always found a way to keep every cent of it. At one point
    I took out extra b/c I needed books (this was after I had already paid
    and started classes) and they somehow took that too saying that I had
    more to pay suddenly. Not only that but a year after I dropped AI they
    contacted me stating that I owed them over $1000. I knew I didn’t and
    tried to argue it and the people who were collecting were ridiculously
    rude telling me that I needed to pay up. I contacted every teacher,
    dean, principal I could get an email for and finally got to the right
    person. They straightened it out and zeroed out my balance. Then
    another year later they tried to pull that same shit AGAIN but I had
    saved everything from the last time so it was cleared up faster.  I still have everything saved from there just in case they try that again

  • thankgodhesouttamyhouse

    This may be a legitamate problem at these schools.  Or it may be more of a problem with the field of photography.  I mean, photography sounds like a tight field to me.  I have to question why anyone would want to start it.  I can also see recruiters at a for profit school pulling these things to get a person in. Then this needs to be looked at.  My son went to AISF for computer animation. It was well worth his time.  It took him 2 months to get the job he wanted after graduation. He’s been able to upgrade to a better job about every other year.  He currently works for Warner Brothers. 

    He’s a serious kid.  He didnt let a teachers attitude or yet another lab fee keep him from learning what he needed to learn.  Yes it was expensive.  Yes, he had a few teachers who didnt really care and would even share their apathy with the class.  There was plenty of that. But it wasnt the general tone there at his school. He learned a heck of alot. He got his moneys worth.  I know he mentioned he specifically didnt want to go to the school in Pittsburgh as its closer to us.  Could there be a problem with that school more than others?

  • chris81

    I was there then too Lisa. I left because I caught 2 of my professors lying about their credentials. I’m glad I got out when I did, and I’m not paying those jokesters a penny. They can call me all they want. 

  • JW

    Everyone that goes to the Art Institute should take it for what it is. Its a school to tone the skills, and creativity you already posess. I went to AI in Dallas for the Video Production Associates program.
     I new that in any creative entertainment industry its not about the degree you have its about who you know and the experience you have. Which is unfair but its the way it works. Thats why I opted out of the bachelor program because to me that was pointless. I just needed to learn how to use sertain software and the basics everything else you learn in the field. I got a job right after Graduation in Sports Broadcasting and have been here for 3 years. I surprisingly did get this job from the AI Career services. But I did not bank on them to get me a job. I have also worked on close to 20 various Motion pictures and Television Shows.
    I feel bad for the people that stuck around to get there Bachelors because there not any better off then people that go in and get out in 2 years. Its just a lot of waisted money. I cant even pay for my student loans lol
    To bad none of this money that the goverment might win cant go back to the students that paid wayyy to much for a 2 year education.
    But it was still fun and a good experience just an expensive one.
    and the student houseing is an option not mandatory those aparments were ghetto and they werent any less expensive then getting an apartment in another area of town.  

  • Incorrect

    “By the way, know that the units you complete at Ai are NOT TRANSFERABLE to other public colleges, should you wish to switch schools.”

    Maybe at your AI they aren’t, but that’s not the case at all of the schools. At our school, we work extremely hard to maintain accrediation standards with our regional governing body, and our credits transfer the same way that they would from any other accredited school.

    All Art Institute’s are not created equally, and this should be taken into account when choosing a school. And simply because your school works in a certain manner doesn’t meant that all schools follow suit.

  • Mockan1

    Interesting. I graduated AiPh with degree in animation and being told i was “ready to work for Disney” ,the best they did was get me an interview for filing at a greeting card company for minimum wage, warehouse work , home depot (in the retail stores), a local framing store(no interview just a “lead”) and an interview for the paint company i was already working for. 

  • Mockan1

    Actually Acb, those schools are under investigation as well. many of them are owned my the same companies. Devry and Pheonix have been investigated many times already.

  • Cap1515

    So, I have respectfully read all of these opinions (and wow, there are quite a few!), and now I would like to share mine. I completely fit the stereotype target for money hungry AI, middle-low income, single parent family. However, unlike most disadvantaged youth, I chose to not let myself live like that anymore. I have been attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh since Sept 2008. When I first applied to the school, I got the typical flood of telephone calls and snail-mail. I recall, when sitting with my “Admissions Advisor”, that she did not even care what major I was applying for, she was just dragging me in to sign papers. Well, I did. I started in Web Design, and shortly after 3 quarters, I switched to Photography. The Finanical department tried to tell me I lost everything, but upon pestering the hell out of my Advisor, I was able to switch to part-time (3 classes a quarter) and continue to pursue my BS in Photography. That is one thing that you cannot argue, a Bacholers of Science holds a lot more weight then the Fine Arts degree. Although it will take me 5 years to earn my degree, I am constantly up-to-date with the newest technology. I actually, am also a student worker in the “tech center”, so I really see where a lot of the budget is – its in the software (thats updated with every new version), the computers, equipment, DSLRs, studio lighting, you name it, and honestly the AI probably has it. What I see way too often with students is laziness and poor talent. The people that have that natural skill, are the ones that get those high-paying jobs. It really is a dog-eat-dog world with “commerical” artists, but you need to take what you learn at AI and figure out (ON YOUR OWN) how to market yourself. I still have 2 years till I graduate, yet I have already interned (locally) twice, and have countless freelance (paying) opportunities. The people that are out-raged, should be, because they were mislead by their surrounding environment that they were capable of artistic ability without having natural creativity. Yes, I really feel that AI is heartless and severly money hungry. I hear so many ignorant “Tour Guides” telling perspective students misinformation, and it really is unbelievable. I feel, however that Ms Sallie Mae has a tight rope around my finger, and I might as well work as hard as I can to make something more than the 11×14 sized dipolma they hand out. As long as you really use the resources and technology they offer, it truely makes a difference. The teachers are also absoluelty amazing. They are all very knowedgable about the current field, the business aspect, the ethical issues, the very important technique aspects of photography, plus just so much more. Most people are never paying attention during lectures either, its like watching all of them flush money down the drain. 

  • HeXt

    Hate to clue you in, buttttttt it was her job to place those students. She wasn’t bitching. She was standing up for people because a company was doing these people wrong. Learn to read before you throw personal insults.

    These schools are actively defrauding thousands of students who don’t realize it until the debt collectors come chasing them and they have no job or ability to find a job to pay for it.

  • HeXt

    They are all going down. EDMC is just the second biggest, yet most actively deceptive.

  • HeXt

    For those students that went to AI and got feel they were hit with the fraud as well, please join the fight:!/groups/120568314665251/

  • zman

    For those of you that have went to The Art Institutes are the monthly payments for an Associate’s degree different than a Bachelor’s degree?

  • Tripfisk

    You pay the same per credit, but you obviously pay less overall than a bachelor’s as an associate degree requires less credit hours.

  • concerned

    My friend currently attends The Art Institute of Charlotte and they raise the price on him every chance they get.  He still wants to go there!!!!

  • Guest

    I graduated from The Art Institute of Philadelphia in Multimedia & Web Design in 04 with a B.S. and I have been working in the field since graduation. The school showed me a lot and taught me a lot. I have always been able to draw and was always able to make music before attending.

    After I graduated I started out making 25k a year which wasn’t the greatest but I was able to work from home for 3 years which was awesome. I will make about 75k this year and I am still working in the field.

    I was able to get my Masters from a regionally accredited college and did not have any problems with the credit transfer. I applied to only 1 college. I am not making 75k with my Masters knowledge. I am still using what I learned at AIPH and of course I have kept current on everything in the web world. HTML5, jquery, SEO et cetera

    I did attempt to get another Bachelors and they would not accept my GE classes which I thought was nuts because of AIPH’s national accreditation.

    I think that the accreditation system in the US is messed up. The Department of Education and CHEA both recognize my degree but 95% of regionally accredited colleges and universities will not. I took so many GE classes that were quality classes. Whoever is responsible for accreditation, both regionally and nationally, need to sort it out for issues like mine.

    If you go to an Art Institute make sure you go to a regionally accredited one. A lot of them are. I do not have any experience with any other Art Institute except a friend of mine went to the Art Institute in LA. He has been working on the field since graduation and  he won major awards for one of the teams that he worked on. He was also talented from the get-go.

    There were a lot of low income students but then there were a lot of students that came from families with major money. That’s the case anywhere you go. If you have talent and drive you will do good. It’s like that with anything you do.

    One thing they need to make right is the national and regional accreditation for GE classes. A GE class should be a GE class and there should be at a standard in every college that is transferable from one to another no matter the type of accreditation. They need to make a General Education Law for this. This is not the Art Institutes fault but they do need to let prospective students know this up front.

    Nonetheless, thanks for reading my opinion. Good luck! A lot of good points in this thread!

  • Leo

    Recruitment at the Art Institute had salary based income ONLY.  I have no idea where you were getting your information from, squarecatskates.

  • Anonymous

    Well, considering I’m posting my comments at the bottom of an article, and I make reference to a second article, I think it’s safe to assume I got my information from the articles. :

    This article is a summary that links to a much more detailed article on the matter where this point is clearly made by former recruiters. Did you read the above article, the linked article, or my comments, Leo? Furthermore, the payment structure of the recruiters isn’t even the key issue, so much as their practices and criteria for admitting students. Regardless of how the recruiters are paid, unqualified students end up saddling thousands in debt that they can never repay, while the school sits happily on government subsidies based on recruiting low income students. Whether the recruiters get paid per student or via salary is only marginally relevant. Do your research, Leo, and practice some critical thinking.

  • Jackoby

    a girl died because of her crazy gay friend, not anything to do with the school, just emotional drama that went haywire. We have moved to a new housing district not 2 miles from the school which is a much safer and gated community.

  • I go to the Art Institute of San Diego. I am in the Advertising program and I graduate in March. The Ad teacher here are amazing each one has worked in the field and has a PHD or is working for their PHD. 

    You get what you put into your education. Don’t blame it on the school because some student didn’t put in the effort