The Art Institutes: Legitimate Photo Schools, or Accessories to Fraud?

The Art Institutes, a for-profit chain of colleges that offers degrees in photography and other fields, is training aspiring photographers by the hundreds at locations all over the country, as well as online. Many of the students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and dim career prospects.

The US Department of Justice recently sued the owner of The Art Institutes–Education Management Company–for using illegal recruiting methods to collect $11 billion in government-backed student loan money since 2003. EDMC, which is partly owned by Goldman Sachs, denies the charges.

EDMC owns several chains of for-profit colleges, so The Art Institutes doesn’t account for all the student loan money going into the company’s coffers. But former AI recruiters, career counselors, and students interviewed by PDN say that EDMC and AI are preying on low income students who lack the skills and preparation they need to succeed in college, or who lack the knowledge to explore far less expensive educational options available to them. “You’re really kind of ruining peoples’ lives. There’s no nicer way to put it,” one former EDMC career counselor told PDN.

EDMC see it differently, of course. “We offer a pathway to a higher education for many students who are not being served by traditional higher education,” a company spokesperson said.

The full story is posted here at

Students, faculty, alums and employees of Art Institutes programs can post their comments and experiences, or their reaction to the Department of Justice law suit, here.

15 Responses to “The Art Institutes: Legitimate Photo Schools, or Accessories to Fraud?”

  1. The Art Institutes: Legitimate Photo Schools, or Accessories to Fraud? | Global Community of Photography Says:

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  2. anonymous Says:

    How is the Art Institute different than any other private art school? From what I’ve seen, the facilities, the faculty, and the overall curriculum is up to par with any other photo program I’ve seen.

  3. Bob Says:

    If the standard for financial aid is getting a job in your college major a whole lot of universities should expect a significant drop in federal aid–which might well be appropriate. I’m looking at you English, Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, History, Anthropology, Economics and Art departments.

  4. anonymous Says:

    I’m currently a student in the online course and I think it’s a great curriculum. I’ve attended a ground school in my area that was very focused on the “fine art” aspect of photography but taught nothing about business practice or copyright infringement. This course does just that. Not to mention the ground school was just as expensive.
    Now I have teachers that are located in cities like LA or Denver that have photography careers to back up their knowledge and aren’t required to live in my neck of the woods.
    As in any school you get your range of student capabilities but what does that matter? I know I’m talented and I’m learning from teachers who have a lot of work under their belt. I think people should look into the instructors working in this school before they judge.

  5. ashlee Says:

    @ student sadly enrolled on online courses, you will be very disappointed when you graduate. No self respecting company wants to hire someone with ai stamped on his/her resume. They have pushed through so many blatantly awful graduation “portfolios”, not to mention the massive amounts of plagerism, that anyone who is worth a damn is immediately overlooked. Add all the debt on to that, and then tell me how worth it the school is.

  6. photohll Says:

    Any school that has been, or is currently under investigation is probably not a good choice.

  7. hannah Says:

    Now, wait… a self-confessed high-school pothead gets into a college? He professes to have learned nothing while he was there? And that’s evidence that there’s something rotten going on?

    Unless he had a moment of revelation and decided to turn his life around, it seems reasonable to assume that he approached college the same way that he approached high school. How many college professors could put their hand on their heart and say they never had a similar student in their classes?

    Thank goodness he woke up and decided to learn on the job – sad for him that he didn’t do it before he’d gone back for a second helping of the education that was so useless the first time around.

    Come on, David Walker, is this the best witness you can find? Every college and university has a disgruntled student or two who sets up shop on the web as a crusader, rather than accept responsibility for their own actions. Sure we want juicy scandal but at least make it well-founded juicy scandal and give us a good read.

  8. Ara Says:

    Graduating from any art school in debit with little career options is not unique to the Art Institutes. I have a Masters in photography and I choose to earn this degree not for the career opportunities, but rather to develop myself as an artist. I owe money sure, but have managed to create my own business plan that works for me. It does come down to how driven the individual is, as a student or post graduation, on weather or not he or she is successful – even with a prestigious degree from a pedigreed school like SCAD or RISD.

  9. mikep Says:

    I know plenty of AI graduates. Some are very good and some are not.
    I frequently have wished I could have gone to photo school over the years.. just to learn those things it took me years to learn on my own.
    Individually, I don’t see a problem with going to an art school private or not.
    However, when you pull back and look at the “industry” of taking rich kids’ parents’ money and/or taking taxpayer backed student loans and making millions of dollars it starts to smell bad.

    Pumping hundreds of potential photographers into the currently weak market place isn;t doing anyone any good either… Taking people’s money for training of questionable worth is a problem.

    And AI is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many of these for profit schools pumping out students who’s credits are worthless, training wrong for the marketplace, and frequently the degree leads to a dead end.

    The current problem is a cluster of bad economy, jobs leaving the US, bad politics between for profit and state operated, and non profit private schools, and the specter of profits being the primary thing at AI and others instead of the students’ outcome.

    Additionally, I would never want to be “trained” in lieu of “educated”. Trained people are not so useful when the world changes… It is not good for society to train people instead of educating them. Especially when they walk into a voter’s booth and elect “short term goal” idiots to further lead us all to doom.

  10. Hugh J. Says:

    It’s probably a safe assumption that anything with Goldman Sachs’ grubby hands in it can be considered fraud until proven otherwise.

  11. Buffy Says:

    great info! thanks

  12. anonymous Says:

    So ashlee are you saying that if I make a great portfolio the mere fact that AI is where I got my degree will ruin my option for work with a self-respecting company? I have to disagree.
    First of all I’m already working, so that’s false unless they aren’t self-respecting enough for you. Secondly plagiarism? In what manner is there plagiarism involved with a student’s personal work at this school? Third what makes a student at this school less “worth a damn”?
    The issue here is that they recruited lower income students who are getting loans, that doesn’t directly translate to less skilled or less worthy.

  13. Danny Says:

    The program isn’t the issue. If you are a good photographer/ good with working with people you can make it happen. EDMC needs to focus more on quality and making people want to attend rather than selling the program to everything with a loan. I hope this lawsuit puts them in their place.
    I graduated the AI program 2 years ago, and I am a professional photographer.

  14. Steve Anderson Says:

    I am a working commercial photographer and have been for 20 years.
    I am a Brooks Institute graduate with honors and…
    I am an Art Institute Instructor.
    I cannot speak to the practices of the the admitting departments, but I can certainly comment on the content and quality of the education being offered.
    I’ll say first the quality of the education is equal to the effort of the student.
    I teach at Ai in orange county CA. Every staff member cares a great deal about how and what is taught. I have also written 2 online portrait classes. Each with great care for each potential student.
    I cant imagine every student in law school or medical school will live their dream in those perspective careers. But as an educator, a working professional and once a student with a dream and no talent, who am I to deny the possibilities.
    Steve Anderson

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