For many students attending a public university is a financial impossibility. Many of these students, especially those interested in the arts turn to for profit universities like the Art Institutes. Unfortunately, it turns out that the very schools that are supposed to get them jobs and help them save money are covertly and illegally stealing the students’ money.

So, before we can get to the criminality of the Art Institutes it is important to know what the Art Institutes is. In their own words, “The Art Institutes is a system of over 50 schools across North America. We provide hands-on education in the creative and applied arts by offering master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs as well as non-degree programs. For employers, we provide an important source of culinary, design, fashion and media arts professionals.” In theory and by their own description the Art Institutes sounds like a great place to be. Unfortunately, many former students have been so disused and dissatisfied that they have turned to protests.

Protests against the for profit Art Institutes are taking place all across the country. Students are attending open houses and other prospective student events to warn students about the failure of debt forgiveness and the fraud that takes place in the for profit institution.

The Art Institutes isn’t the only set of for profit schools to experience these protests and the outrage at for profit schools in general is increasing. For profit schools like the Art Institutes tend to target low income, working students, and despite their fliers, boast low job rates and high underemployment. In recent years, for profit schools have been required to pay 30 million in damages for lying about their job placement rates. In the case of the Art Institutes, they too have had to pay a settlement. A settlement to the tune of 102 million dollars. The settlement was in payment for misrepresenting educational benefits, giving inaccurate information about accreditation, and misrepresenting job placement rates.

No one argues that the settlement is a bad thing, but to many students it is too little too late. The 102 million dollars is to be paid to over 80,000 students for loan forgiveness. This means that each of the qualified students will receive a mere 1,370 dollars toward their loans. In addition to the relatively small payout from the huge company, the Art Institutes receives protection from further prosecution on financial capability, administrative capability, and program review. In the words of Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, “[They] get an agreement from the department that they won’t use any of the findings associated with this settlement for basically all of the major accountability tools the department has…it’s paying a hundred million and getting protection against all of the other tools that could have been used against them, for this activity.”

The former students of the Art Institutes are not happy with this supposed solution. Ami Schneider is a 29 year old graduate from the Art Institutes and she participates in the demonstrations against the Art Institutes. When Schneider entered The Illinois Institute of Art Schaumburg she was told that there was 100 percent job placement in her area of fine arts and digital photography. After attending the school she says that most of the graduating class for her major worked at jobs that didn’t require college degrees. Schneider herself is now unemployed and drowning in 30,000 dollars’ worth of student loans.

Jo Kirby, 30, also attended the Art Institutes. Kirby spend five months at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City studying the culinary arts. Kirby enjoyed the art institutes and her professors, but soon ran into trouble when it came to the administration. Kirby explains, “I had a 4.0 in all of my classes. The chefs were giving me good feedback and inside the kitchen it was a positive experience most of the time. But outside the kitchen it was a pretty awful experience.” Kirby was homeschooled and the Art Institutes, that were previously informed of her status, pulled her loans due to the supposed lack of documentation that she completed high school. Due to her lost loans Kirby was forced to withdraw from the school. Kirby is not alone in her experience. It is not unusual at all for students at for profit universities and the Art Institutes specifically to have trouble locating and getting a hold of any of the staff.

Many students are still fighting the fraud of the Art Institutes through both protests and legal investigative means. Their fighting back at the institution that promised them a degree in the arts and a job to follow that, in reality, gave them nothing more than student loans.

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