Network of Private Art Schools Abruptly Closes, Leaving 1,700 Students Affected

The Art Institutes, an eight-school network of private for-profit colleges in the US, has abruptly closed, in a move that has left 1,700 students affected.

In an announcement on Friday, the network said that it would shutter its remaining eight locations in Miami, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Tampa, Florida, and Virginia Beach permanently at the end of the month, leaving enrolled students with little notice of the plan.

Over the past decade, Art Institutes has been afflicted by declining enrollment and financial uncertainty as different owners of the school system struggled to secure its long-term stability. Only in recent years has the situation further deteriorated.

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Since 2017 alone, the system changed ownership twice. The Education Principle Foundation (EPF), a Delaware nonprofit, has been its owner since 2019. In August, a university in Savannah, Georgia separated itself from EPF after a unanimous vote from both organizations’ boards.

In an email distributed to Art Institutes students, the school system attributed the mass closure to a decade of operational issues.

“A culmination of events over the past decade, both external and internal to the campus operations, has forced the closure of this system of colleges,” the email said.

Between 2011 and 2013, the Art Institutes’ former-parent company, the Pennsylvania-based Education Management Corp. (EDMC), saw the system’s enrollment drop by 16.3 percent; 15 of the network’s locations closed in 2015. That same year, the EDMC had faced a legal challenge from the U. regulators over allegations of fraud and predatory recruiting practices.

The situation around the the school chain, which offered degrees spanning fashion design to culinary arts, continued to decline. By 2018, the parent organization that owned Education Management Corp., Dream Center Education Holdings (DCEH), sought to deaccession the higher education assets it owned. The move came a year after DCEH settled a class action lawsuit accusing Art Institute’s recruiters of falsely advertising the franchise to prospective students as an accredited university.

In 2019, when EPF, a nonprofit formed by a group of private investors, acquired Art Institutes, the move raised flags. Critics in higher education eyed the acquisition with skepticism, raising concerns over transparency around the for-profit college chain and its long-term ability to operate under the new owner. A representative for the Art Institutes could not immediately be reached for comment.

In their announcement, Art Institutes said it is working with partners in higher education to “facilitate” the transfer of academic credits toward completing degrees at other institutions. There was no current plan in place already, the schools said.

“The colleges, which already were dealing with the legacy challenges that arose under prior ownership, were unable to absorb the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic,” the email stated.

It is not the only arts-focused college to have shuttered recently, attributing financial troubles and declines in enrolled to the pandemic. In 2020, the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the nation’s oldest art schools, announced it would permanently close, later filing for bankruptcy 2023.

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