On Tuesday, the Washington State Achievement Council (WSAC) sent out an e-mail informing the 650 students at the Art Institute of Seattle that their school is at risk of imminent closure. Here's the opener:
As you may know, AI Seattle is at risk of closure. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the school may run out of funds to continue operations. This email is intended to provide information about AI Seattle’s current status and resources for AI Seattle students.
There are two options for AI Seattle at this point: a buyer could acquire AI Seattle and continue operations, or the school could close.
If a buyer acquires AI Seattle, the letter reads, then students will be able to continue with their studies. But if nobody's buying, then the school will close at "the end of winter 2019 or it could close before the term ends." The end of the term is March 22—in less than a month.
The e-mail came as a surprise to Blair Brown, an AI student who is only two quarters away from completing her degree in Graphic and Web Design. She currently works at the Amazon Go store downtown and hopes to intern with the store's design team. Given Seattle's tech boom, she says she doesn't want to leave.
Brown said the e-mail from the WSAC is the first she's hearing of the school's potential imminent closure, adding that students received an e-mail from AI of Seattle president Claude Brown on October 31 of last year stating just the opposite.
"Our goal is to ensure that The Art Institute of Seattle is, and will remain, a vital source for creative professionals in the fields of design, media arts, culinary and fashion and to reinforce that there are no plans to close the campus," Claude Brown wrote in the e-mail, before apologizing for "any anxiety or concern that recent news articles and rumors may have caused you as a student."
According to a Seattle Times report from last October, in 2017 a faith-based nonprofit called Dream Center Foundation bought the Art Institutes franchise, as well as South University and Argosy University. The company then started closing Art Institutes all around the country. Of 31 total AIs, only 18 remain. Going into this fall, the Times reports, the Seattle campus had laid off all but 3 full-time professors. Brown's reassuring e-mail came a few days after that information dropped.
A representative for AI of Seattle did not return multiple requests for comment.
Over the phone, Emily Persky, a representative for WSAC, said the state sent out today's e-mail "because there have been financial issues at the Art Institutes, including Seattle." Persky stresses that the school has not closed yet, and that it may not close given the window of time for a buyer to purchase the school.
The inflection point for the current financial troubles happened this past January. Then, WSAC sent out a press release declaring the school at-risk for closure due to "potential financial insolvency." The agency asked AI for a list of all currently enrolled students, a plan for the maintenance of those records, and a "teach-out" plan, which would describe how students could complete their degrees at other schools if AI had to shut down.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education disclosed to WSAC that the school's receiver—Mark Dottore, who is responsible for AI Seattle’s financial obligations—has limited funds and may not be able to meet the school’s financial obligations for the remainder of the current term, according to WSAC.
Two years ago the school enrolled 857 students, which means they've dropped over 200 students compared to this year's total. That's nearly a 25 percent decline in student population. The school charges $22,000 in tuition.
An adjunct faculty member who requested anonymity for fear of retribution told me via e-mail that "the writing has been on the wall ever since Goldman Sachs bought Education Management Corporation," the company from whom Dream Center Foundation bought AIS.
"The powers that be kept cutting faculty to 'save money' completely unaware that their entire business model depends upon selling classes to students," the faculty member continued. "No teachers means no classes. No classes means no revenue... So, they would fire more full time faculty and hope that it had a different result. What happened was students vanished because they were not going to be able to graduate and the quality of instruction and resources went *poof*."
"I am bummed because the school has so much potential, but it was just raided by a bunch of greedy assholes and ruined thousands of lives along the way," the teacher added.