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

  • Bob Wang

    isnt dewey more of a bigger problem? People just can’t get job after they graduate from there.

  • Bob Wang

    Dewry University I meant

  • Stephanie Calcavecchio

    why am I not surprised??? they tell you what courses you’re taking that semester and pretty much every other semester that you are a student

  • ituri

    The sad truth is that for-profit schools are a recipe for predatory tactics. Everyone should be made aware of this.

    I was an AI student, won’t say which one. I will say, if you’re willing to give up a lot to get into your industry, it *can* be done. But I mean that you have to be able to give up EVERYTHING. Got a house? Sell it. Like a city? Move out of it. Prefer one studio to another? Take the job at the one you dislike.

    Basically, if you have children/family or other obligations that keep you tied down, do not go to these schools. I’d say only the very most motivated people should go here. The education CAN be very good, mine was. The instructors are typically awesome (save the few bad apples, which are everywhere), and they want you to succeed. But if you can’t do what you have to do to FIND the jobs out there, you will not be using that degree.

    It’s a tough lesson to learn….

    I’d also say, anyone without genuine financial support EXTERNAL to the school or Sallie Mae should not even consider it. Far too expensive.

  • former audio major

    Many of us did work hard even to our own emotional detriment. This school is failing people and taking their money! People
    need not speak about things they have not personally experienced. People are not ignorant or lazy for expecting results not delivered on their end. My advice to your daughter is stay far away from this school.

  • guest

    Wow I hope they dismiss all my loans after this fraud situation. I graduated with a BFA in Interior Design from Aiw and they jacked my credit with loans I can’t afford to pay back, nor no job placement after I graduated and relocated back home. Ai talks a good education but no career or job placement comes after graduation. COMPLETE WASTE OF MY TIME AND TALENT.

  • Amy Gone

    Right! In 88, I was told by an instructor that everything we were learning would be obsolete in 2 years- he was right. Have always resented paying for an “education” that I did not receive. Should have filed a class action suit back then…

  • Meow Mix

    No… this school is a total scam. I thought this school would be a great way to get my life on track, and start a career. But once I got past my freshmen year I learned how I was scammed into going there.

    I should have known the moment I went to enroll, and I brought my portfolio, and the guy didnt even care to look at it… I mean at ALL. But i was too star eyed about going to college to see that.

    After my freshmen year when it was time to take advance classes I quickly learned how terrible the school really was. I was being taught NOTHING that would land you a job. The most talented kids in the class were self taught. The “advanced” classes were often the same exact “training” as the basic classes. And in one instance one profession taught lvl 1 AND lvl 2 Image design. I was in lvl 2 design, and my friend was a freshmen… our homework was IDENTICAL. the same exact things. And so were all the in class assignments. SHe also wasted half the Semester in ADVANCED image Design lvl 2 simply going over graphic design HISTORY. Something that should have been it’s own course, or covered in entry lvl. Not in ADVANCED design. Students kept complaining that we were learning nothing, and that nothing being taught could land you a job at say a famous magazine. No advanced photo techniques. No advanced image altering techniques. Literally all the people who knew the most just learned on their own. And they had the best projects.

    And to top it off the teacher was a TERRIBLE designer, who could only draw stick figures. She also did NOt work in the industry.

    I coudl go on and on about the other teachers, but you get the idea. Many of the other classes were the same thing. You literally learn NOTHING of use. NOTHING you couldnt just pick up a book and teach yourself in onee sitting.

    We all KNOW no one can guarantee you a job when you graduate, but the recruiters LIE!!! They heavily pad the numbers of successful employment after graduating. They do not care… they flood the school with unqualified students… they do not care. All they care about is getting that easy money from their enrollment bonuses, and all the school cares about is getting that easy federal money. Once the get the money nothing else matters. Because the Govt or Sallie Mae isnt going to go after the SCHOOl, they are going to go after YOU. But least the govt got fed up with this scam and is trying to do something about it.

    SURE… every now and then you will get a success story of someone making it big after graduating from an AI… but that is an EXCEPTION… not a rule. Most of the people who have the talent already KNEW the material upon enrolling to the school, and just used the school as a means to get a DEGREE to get their foot in the door at places that say they require them. It can also be used as a means to demand a higher salary.

    But the school is a total SCAM. I regret ever going there.

  • Sam Jones

    this is crap…colleges crank out millions and no job, heavy debt…at least at the art institute you learn a skill!!!….

  • Sam Jones

    hum…I went to the art institute of Houston…as a graphic design student…early 80’s before computers or degrees…came out with a portfolio…landed an entry level job in production and learned about starting my own business…I think if they want to improve the art schools -entrepreneurship classes are a must…and definitely computer skills gezzz…but when I went, it gave me what I needed…attended liberal arts college before that which gave me nothing but debt and an ability to drink!

  • Sam Jones

    I should also mention that the tuition is nothing like it is now…there was no hard sell…you just went there and learned the skills because the gov’t was not involved, the school let me pay by the week…I learned the skills…was never promised anything…but what I learned is in art is about talent but mostly networking…hum there is alot that can be taught that isn’t …I learned that artists have to be creative in all areas including business…so placement rate -ha-is crazy…artists are not assembly line workers-we have to make our own way and at times its not easy

  • Sam Jones

    hey Joseph …if you get a chance read my post…I am sorry about the interest, etc…but you can still use your skills -don’t give up

  • Kiyonique Terrah Reed

    so should i still consider going to this school to do culinary arts?

  • Max Arnold

    Universities in general are pretty corrupt institutions. None of this surprises me. It disgusts me, but it doesn’t surprise me.

  • Sam Jones

    wow reading these posts, I am feeling for you…just a note to add to Nhia comment for kids looking at schools, most of these For Profit schools credits don’t transfer…heck, its hard sometimes to get community college credits to transfer, also private colleges have trouble transferring- so this is not exclusive…

  • Sam Jones

    Look in general-students are indebt over their head because universities, private and public are charging too damn much!!!!! …as far as default, I recall, many dentists and doctors and yes lawyers defaulting on their student loans…why pick on the arts?

  • Matty D.

    Totally agree! I graduated from there and luckily I am working at a job in my career field, but I got myself the job! Not a damn soul helped me or reached out to me.

  • Matty D.

    Yep! All that damn money and faulty equipment. Never once had decent equipment or enough equipment to go around. Less than 10 video cameras, but they had let so many damn people attend the school there was never a free one. SMH.

  • Plutosdad

    And lord knows Pittsburgh is already flooded with cookie cutters. How many cookies can people possibly eat?

  • jkantor267

    So it’s the school’s fault that Republicans have spent the last 40 years destroying our economy so no one can get a job?

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    Sounds like you are an actual employee of Ai and you are paid to write positive things about it. There you go. I solved the case.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    Sounds like another paid employee of Ai being paid to write good things about the college. There you go, I solved another case

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    “Notable Sports term” haha hilarious. Ai must of seen this website and all the negative reviews and decided to pay multiple people to say good things about it.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    Sounds like you are another paid employee by Ai. Man you folks are everywhere.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    Yep, both a Shrill and a Troll and sorry no one from Ai works for WETA. I checked it myself. You guys are pathetic paid for shills

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    That’s such an insult since Ai has no good equipment or teachers or any real internment programs, etc. The equipment is not up to par of anything. So no, those kids wouldn’t be hurt, they would just go to another school that provides them with much better equipment and so on. Go to Full Sail or SCAD, they accept you as much as Ai, and they let you shoot on panavision 35mm cameras and RED Epic’s. They both have backlots, cranes, etc. They edit on the most current and up to date software. And to assume they would be flipping burgers when this is art we are talking about is laughable. You know how many people are successful because of their hard work and not going to college? I know many people who dropped out of Ai or never went to college and are more successful than most of the people I know.

    There should be standards, they should be picky. When I went to Ai, 90% of the people I had to work with were people who never cared about the degree, they were screw ups who had no idea what they wanted. And I was forced to work with them because that is what Ai had to offer and who they accepted? A few talented people and 100s of brainless morons who never cared about the field. I shouldn’t have to work with people who will bring me and my talent down.

    You are such a paid shill its not even funny. I understand people trying to defend their schools if they went to SCAD or Full Sail, or Harvard or NYU, or Chapman, or USC, etc. But I’ve never seen people act as aggressive in their love for an Ai as you do which only leads me to believe you are a paid shill. End of story.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    They can’t provide evidence but neither can I. So all I have is my opinion and I call BS, he’s a liar

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    ^ haha, you guys are such hilarious liars. Ai sure loves hiring their little patsy’s to write positive reviews

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    You guys are such paid shills. Give me a break. I can see right through your lies. You guys aren’t even trying. You sit on your butt writing positive reviews of Ai to counter all the negatives.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    That’s not the point moron. Everyone is missing the point here. Ai has lied to its students, lied to people applying for a job. Ask Financial Aid? That is like going to Wall Street and asking JPMorgan if they are creating toxic loans and having its bankers lie to its customers about their credit. They will say no but in reality, they really are and then when the house of cards collapses, they blame the customer for not knowing his credit and it being his choice when they were in fact lied to about their credit and about what they can get.

    Ai prayed on low income people, who usually don’t have the brightest education and if you are also an 18 year old kid and not that educated, you will buy into the lies Ai told them. Its not OUR job to see if Ai is honest and telling us the truth and not committing fraud like they actually did to make themselves richer, it is their responsibility to be ethical and tell us the truth and not rob us for 11 billion in fraud.

  • AlsoDoingFine

    Sounds like someone is butthurt about their inability to succeed, I was hired before I graduated from ai, I didn’t even speak to career services did it all on my own then again I didn’t pursue a pointless photography, graphic design, or audio degree, a bachelors in photography is especially pointless, buy camera look at the interwebs you’re a photographer boom. And of course people will take advantage of you in the real world welcome to the real world don’t expect someone to hold your hand through it some people shouldn’t pursue higher education but hey might as well let them spend their money if they want to

  • MatthewWillox

    Your degree is as worthless as you make it.

  • Julian Alexander Cicone

    Actually I operate my own production company and I’m a successful filmmaker and photographer. I also write a lot too.

    Here’s the thing though. I have a lot of student loans that I didn’t need. Because after I graduated, I had to pretty much reteach myself. Because according to Ai. Hollywood cameras and professional equipment is Panasonic miniDV video camcorders and editing on Final Cut Pro while not teaching anything about Avid or Adobe nor did they teach anything on really the real importance of photography and cinematography which are lenses and lighting, not the body. But no, only thing they offered was NOTHING on lenses and one lighting class.

    ANd lets talk about those awful internship programs if you could even call them that, So I’m not angry because I failed, I’m angry because I succeeded and not from Ai but from my own hard work, Ai was a waste of money and you are a paid shill.

  • Happy_Tinfoil_Cat

    Blame the victim for falling for the scam. Same argument could be used to excuse any number of scams. And guess what, the people serving burgers may actually be ahead financially. They don’t owe tons of money on high interest “student loans” which can’t even be killed by bankruptcy. Go ahead and scold them for not pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and working three jobs while being trained in outdated crap, while following pipe dreams they were talked into.

  • theshakal2179

    They should look at full sail university in winter park, fl. They do the same damn thing.

  • B

    Great now when are there going to go after other college’s that do this among hundreds of other illegal activities – like the one I went to New Hampshire Institute of Art.

  • Jason

    I feel cheated on my degree. I did have a few good instructors that I learned a lot from…but the rest of the program was a serious embarrassment. They had teachers teaching programs like Z-Brush that had never used the program before as were literally reading out of a book from borders

  • KL

    I better get money back from that school. The only classes I actually learned something in my gen eds. Art institute caused me a lot of debt, and I gained experience and learned more from actually working in the field I was studying in. I didn’t even get finish school. All I want is my money back.

  • Angie
  • Tabby

    doing what and did the degree help?

  • Andrew St. Clair

    Please, explain to me how I can make a degree that nobody in the worlds accepts as being a real degree, into a degree that suddenly because the most important degree in the world that everybody masturbates over. I look forward to hearing this explanation….

  • MatthewWillox


  • Andrew St. Clair

    Work… work? You see, the thing about a degree is that it should be more than just a piece of paper. The degree shows that I have worked, and that I have already worked enough to be qualified to earn that degree. That I have the skills and input required to work a job in which skills in that particular field are necessary. That I a more qualified to work the job over many other people who do not have it. You see, people don’t get a degree just for fun (unless you’re rich). They get a degree because it’s supposed to put them ahead of people who don’t have it. Now that you’ve said “work,” I can confirm that the degree is indeed meaningless. The degree means that I can, and I have worked. That I have a portfolio worthy of getting a job. That I have the skills worthy of getting a job. That I have work enough worth of getting a job. If it’s simply work that gets me the job, then it doesn’t mean the degree is any more meaningful. All your dumb post does is back up what I just said about the degree meaning nothing. If it’s work that matters, then I should have just spent all those years doing work on my own, rather than spending thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on getting a degree.

    Just as a side note…. I went to an Art Institute for years… and not once did I ever see any of the professor do any work. All they ever did was talk about comic books. So, how the hell do they have a job?

  • MatthewWillox

    I don’t think you’re really understanding what work is.

    What about all the people who are already working, does your degree usurp the work that they are doing, thereby qualifying you for a “free spot.”

    The promise of your degree wasn’t that you just get a free job and an easy go of it for the rest of your life.

  • Andrew St. Clair

    Nope. But my degree should give me some kind of advantage in the field, rather than putting me right back where I was before I ever started going to college. Before I went to college, I was working a part-time job that landed me less than $10,000 a year. I graduated nearly two years ago, and I’m now working a part-time job that lands me less than $8,000 a year (worse than that, this part-time job I’m currently working was found by the career services department, and after they found me this “part-time job,” they never contacted me again – even better, my career service advisor doesn’t even work for AI anymore). I didn’t get the degree just for fun. I got the degree because I was told that it would help me get a job in this field. I’m going to say that again. I was told that it would help me get a job in this field. I was also told that it would give me an advantage. I was told that I would never get a job without it. I was told that it would make me look better. These are the things I was told about this degree, by the people who deemed me good enough to have this degree. This degree isn’t supposed to be just some piece of paper, yet that’s all its been.

    I asked you to explain to me how to make this worthless degree turn into a very important degree. You know what you’ve said so far? “Your degree is worthless.” That’s what you’ve been saying this whole time. Do you think it’s supposed to help you get a job? Do you think it’s supposed to show that you have talent? YES. That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. Why the hell would I go to an art college then? Why the hell would I spend $30 a day for years to travel to a building just to get told something that I could easily look up on the internet? Because you get a degree for going to that building, and that degree is supposed to mean something. So far, it has meant nothing. I could have just spent all those years building a portfolio at home.

    Once again, all you’ve said so far is that the degree is worthless. That nobody cares about it, and that there is no reason to get it, and it certainly not being worth the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars it cost.

  • MatthewWillox

    If you’re just going to rest on your laurels, you won’t get anywhere. Ever.

    The reason why, is people like me.

    Here is my experience.

    I went to a local, no name college. I got a “certificate in multimedia.” I worked my ass off everyday. I went to every class. I took everything seriously. I finished with a mark of 100%. They wanted to hire me to teach immediately, I said no.

    I then went to go find jobs. I worked for a small graphic design company as part of a free work placement. I showed up every day at 7am. I worked exceptionally hard, gave my real opinion, made friends with the people who worked there, and even showed them a thing or two. I continued to work on my portfolio and hone my craft.

    In the end, my work placement didn’t hire me.

    With my new, non school based portfolio however, I was able to catch the eye of a small company working in a suburb of the city I live in. I built a few small things that were good, but the company didn’t really need me. They let me go after a few months.

    Feeling a bit discouraged, I took all the work I had done so far, packaged it up into a new portfolio and just started shopping it around. I’d look at the work companies were doing, and see if I could produce that level of work. I did pay projects for my mom and produced my own art and music.

    I was getting nowhere. But out of the blue, the company I did work placement for called me. They wanted to re-interview me for a position they had available.

    “Luckily” I had kept my portfolio up to date and even added some new, current stuff to it. Went to the interview, aced it, got the job.

    I worked there for 2 years. I completed almost every project I was given, on time, on budget, with very few exceptions. I showed up for work early everyday. I gave my honest opinion everyday. I worked my ass off.

    One day, the other company I had been working for pitched me on a large project that they needed me for.

    Why did they need me? My certificate in multimedia? Nope.

    I said yes, switched companies AGAIN, this time working on a much larger project, with higher stakes, more responsibilities.

    The project was a large historical encyclopedia for the 1950’s. It required a TON of graphics. I did things for that project that I look back on.. and I don’t even know how I did it.

    Upon the completion of that project, I used it as the basis of a job application to a large advertising agency. They rejected my application immediately.

    I went back to the drawing board. I worked for two months on a new portfolio/showcase piece that would show them what I was capable of in creativity, planning, and execution.

    I pitched them again. They said no.

    So I uploaded my portfolio/experience to design sites and message boards to see what people actually thought of it. I ended up getting some “site of the day” awards and getting listed by a few sites that showcased the company I was trying to apply to.

    I went back to them one more time, this time I said;

    “Here is my portfolio, it is good, the people who acknowledge your work have also acknowledged my work. What do you know, that they don’t?”

    They hired me on the spot. I had to apply three times and it took me three months. I knew if I could just show them, and not simply take my work for granted or think that my talent was self evident, that they would hire me.

    For that company, I worked on world-class branding projects and digital experiences. I met celebrities. I went to amazing photo shoots and amazing gala parties.

    I no longer work there, and my career has had it’s ups and downs, but I have never really had to look for a job since.

    Now, what part of this was simply “awarded” to my by my certificate?

    The only person who ever questioned my education was the account person for the second place I ever worked. The WORK was good enough that the seemingly under-educated quality of my education was dismissed.

    There is only one kind of person in this world that I am afraid of. It’s a person with a great education and a better work ethic than me.

    I also went to an Arts Institute College. I made friends with all the instructors and tried to take away from whatever they had to teach me and apply it, even if I didn’t think it was relevant. I was paying them to teach me!

    I didn’t even complete my degree and I do work in my field of study every day. I didn’t show up to my interviews with a “here is my degree” and a chip on my shoulder. I showed up with actual work.

    So, take it from me. Your attitude sucks and work is the answer. Always was, always will be.

    If you’re looking for an “easy answer,” Work is it. No one turns away people who show a willingness to bust their ass.

  • Sam

    The problem with the Art Institute is that it is overpriced for what you learn.. I have a bittersweet feeling about that place. Mainly I learned a lot and my drawing skills improved during my time there. I was also exposed to a lot of different programs. The thing is though it was all me, I HAD to push to learn the stuff and experiment with it, I HAD to sit down and draw all day..some of the instructors were ok but I could not wait to get out of there, I hated it when I was there.

  • Sam

    Right on man, you get it. I have a bittersweet feeling about the Art Institute I went to the one in Fort Lauderdale. I learned a lot mainly because of my own efforts. What I know now 8 years later is that experience is everything. I just hate the fact that it takes years of punishment to understand how the world works. The degree is a nice add-on but the experience in ANY field is what’s most important.

  • Mz. 420

    AI online is the worst education program ever. You don’t get what you paid for. If you’re looking to enroll in their Media Arts and Animation program. DON’T!

    You can learn everything at your local bookstore for a lot cheaper… Invest in books and videos on what you want to learn. In the end you don’t have to worry about repaying a monthly school loan that cost an arm and leg. Instead you’ll have money to invest in your equipment to start your freelance business.

    You don’t need a degree to say your a fancy graphic designer or video editor. All you need is an awesome portfolio and skills to back it up. Please don’t make my mistake… I been thinking how i want to burn my AI bachelor degree and post it on youtube for the world to see.

    Don’t let these rats scam you into debt.

  • MM

    I’m with you on that one! Went to the school pictured above in SF, got sick and had to leave w/ 1 year left of my bachelors and in the end had to fight to finish remotely and settle for an associates. Now I’m sitting with over 100k in college debt and barely making 2k a month. Thanks a lot AI.