First you struggle, then you get coopted by religion, and then you die

I just learned that the Art Institute of Seattle has closed. This is bad news — I knew people who went there and others who aspired to go there. It seemed like a good place, and the closure is doing deep harm to people.

The Art Institute of Seattle will close abruptly on Friday, leaving about 650 students in the lurch — without classes, professors, or possibly diplomas.

The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), a state regulation agency, announced the end of the school’s 73-year tenure on Wednesday, just over two weeks before the winter quarter was supposed to end.

These are students who’d sunk tens of thousands of dollars into their education, who are probably still carrying daunting amounts of debt, and who’ve now been told they pissed away years of their youth and all of their investment and will get nothing for their trouble. How could this happen? How can the government stand aside and let this happen? This was an accredited institution which, one would think, was an assurance of quality.

One clue is in a few key words in this summary:

The Art Institutes, a group of art colleges nationwide, has struggled with financial troubles for years; the company that owned them went bankrupt in 2017 and Dream Center Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit, bought the schools. Court filings show that since the purchase, the schools have grappled with financial issues.

Oh, here’s another clue: A College Chain Crumbles, and Millions in Student Loan Cash Disappears. Somebody skimmed off a lot of cash in this deal, not just from the Art Institute, but a whole mess of struggling colleges that were snapped up by a religious entity.

The affected schools — Argosy University, South University and the Art Institutes — have about 26,000 students in programs spanning associate degrees in dental hygiene and doctoral programs in law and psychology. Fourteen campuses, mostly Art Institute locations, have a new owner after a hastily arranged transfer involving private equity executives. More than 40 others are under the control of a court-appointed receiver who has accused school officials of trying to keep the doors open by taking millions of dollars earmarked for students.

26,000 students? This is unconscionable. The first problem is that these colleges were bought out by Pentacostal evangelical Christians with no experience in running an educational institution.

Dream Center is connected to Angelus Temple, which was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist once portrayed by Faye Dunaway in a TV movie, “The Disappearance of Aimee.” It is affiliated with the Foursquare Church, an evangelical denomination with outposts in 146 countries.

Buying a chain of schools “aligns perfectly with our mission, which views education as a primary means of life transformation,” Randall Barton, the foundation’s managing director, said when Dream Center announced its plan.

But Dream Center had never run colleges. It hired a team including Brent Richardson, who worked on the conversion of Grand Canyon University to a nonprofit as its chairman, to lead the schools’ corporate parent, Dream Center Education Holdings. He stepped down in January.

Alarms were ringing from the moment the takeover was proposed. Dream Center’s effort to buy the failing ITT Technical Institutes schools had fallen apart after resistance from the Obama administration. When it asked to buy Education Management’s schools, consumer groups, members of Congress and some regional accreditors raised concerns.

The second problem is more secular: the gang of idiots currently running the country, who are engaged in a thrilling give-away of our assets to line their own pockets.

Led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Education Department has reversed an Obama-era crackdown on troubled vocational and career schools and allowed new and less experienced entrants into the field.

“The industry was on its heels, but they’ve been given new life by the department under DeVos,” said Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

Ms. DeVos, who invested in companies with ties to for-profit colleges before taking office, has made it an agency priority to unfetter for-profit schools by eliminating restrictions on them. She also allowed several for-profit schools to evade even those loosened rules by converting to nonprofits.

That’s what Dream Center wanted to do when it asked to buy the remains of Education Management Corporation.

Schools are just plunder to these people. One has to wonder, though, how the church’s “mission” would have been implemented in these secular schools, if they hadn’t run them straight into the ground.


  1. numerobis says

    The Art Institutes were quite capably managing to screw up on their secular selves.

  2. nomdeplume says

    DeVos is one of many members of the Trump administration who is causing damage that will last for decades. Republicans are no longer satisfied with short term damage.

  3. says

    The damage used to be mostly incidental to the Republicans enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Now they seek it as an end unto itself, while continuing to graft in new and creative ways in the changed landscape they’ve wrought.

  4. says

    Yeah, the Art Institutes were already in deep financial trouble. DeVos’s cronies just made it worse instead of better.

  5. John Morales says

    Um, is art what they taught?

    Because if so, I can’t get too excited about it.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @5: Well, I don’t get excited about biology, but I certainly recognize its importance. Do you think art is unimportant? What subjects do you get excited about?

  7. unclefrogy says

    another data point in how profit (money) and religion are effecting education.
    we seem to be heading toward some kind of ignorant age by our own choices
    I hope we can turn it around before it is too late.
    uncle frogy

  8. numerobis says

    I recall a friend at Art Institute of Chicago finding it to be pretty much what you’d expect of a for-profit school (about 10 years ago), so I have trouble mourning it. It should have been cleaned up ages ago.

    Art education is critical to having a cultural life; for-profit art education not so much.

  9. John Morales says

    chigau, nah. Art is supernumerary to utility, not just for a select few. Pleasurable, but not needful.

    Still, I take it that it was indeed art which was taught at the Art Institute. So yeah, no biggie.
    Now, were it a vocational intitution for tradespeople or suchlike, then I would be irritated at the outcome.

    (Also, true artists will do art whether or not they are formally taught)

  10. vucodlak says

    @ John Morales, #11

    Also, true artists will do art whether or not they are formally taught

    Yes, just as true science is done by self-taught lone geniuses out of their home laboratories.

  11. bassmanpete says

    John @11: So you’re not irritated that 650 students lost out? Doesn’t really matter whether they were art students or whatever, I’ll bet it was a biggie for them.

  12. John Morales says

    bassmanpete, you misperceive. Obviously, being ripped-off (i.e. paying for something which one does not get) is not something about which I approve.

    But the issue at hand is that PZ characterises it as ‘education’.

    I mean, if a Christian theological college were similarly run down into the ground, would he complain about their aborted ‘education’? I suspect the framing would be different.

    (Dare I compare art with theology? Both seem about as useful to me, important as they may be to some other people, so, yeah. I do)

  13. says

    Lesser being and Art Institute of Seattle alum here. My first and last question: Any chance of loan forgiveness here? It was my understanding that AIS was already in hot water for deceptive recruitment practices, along with a bunch of other overpriced for-profits, and that some kind of group was formed to decide if people met criteria for loan forgiveness on those grounds.

    But then there was never a good way presented to petition that group and I lost track of that shit. At any rate, there is no question I was lied to about the potential for income in computer animation. They used old numbers from before a massive devaluation of that work that left starting pay barely north of burger flipping.

    If anybody knows how to press this matter, holla at me. I could use a break in life, aside from the way my body is breaking under manual labor in mega-retail.

    There were a few good things about the place for sure. There were good professors, many of whom got boned by the company’s bumpy ride down the chute. I’ll always remember some of those people. Also met my boyfriend there and we’re still together. Learned some life stuff, felt like a bro-hemian. Learned how to use some programs and be a skosh more disciplined in my craft. But the bill, holy hell.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @11:

    Art is supernumerary to utility

    What an arrogant use of “supernumerary”. The “utility” of art is subjective. I could survive without it, but it wouldn’t be much of a life. You seem to me like a colourblind person saying colour is superfluous, or a tone-deaf person saying music is unnecessary. Don’t translate your personal perceptions/requirements into objective judgments.

  15. says

    I’d rather people didn’t engage the tedious trolling. As an artist, I am not even offended because the arguments are so inane. If anyone wants to talk about the school, the students, the professors, whatever, I’m kind of a witness. Get at me.

  16. John Morales says

    Rob @16,

    The “utility” of art is subjective.

    Perfectly expressed. I could not do better than that.

    Don’t translate your personal perceptions/requirements into objective judgments.

    Heh. It’s not the facts we dispute.

    (I get a lot of this any time I even allude to the distinction between needs and desires)

    nomdeplume, to what trolling do you refer?

    Anyway, I acknowledge your admonition to cease responding to comments directed to me, such as yours, and I accept that so doing constitutes trolling in your estimation.

  17. unclefrogy says

    I do not know what kinds of subjects were taught at the subject institute so I can not comment on what a lose it is to have it closed.
    Art and design are everywhere you look humans make art and use art and design in everything we do.
    I find that those who dismiss art as useless and they can live without it are using a particular and idiosyncratic definition of the art they decry. @21 where did the icon you use as an identifier come from and while it is not Rembrandt nor Picasso it is art. The layout off these blog pages are part of art and design. I am sorry you live in such a pinched world view as to not see the art a design all around. we are not going back to text only internet
    uncle frogy

  18. Crudely Wrott says

    John, you do realize that life without music would be
    damned hard to dance to, don’t you?

    More to the point of the OP,
    Hypocrisy, thy name is Faith.
    Religion: It Ruins Everything.
    It’s why we can’t have nice things.
    Luckily, there is a cure, but it’s gonna take
    a wicked long time and a helluva lot of work.

  19. monad says

    Yeah, the Art Institutes were already in deep financial trouble. DeVos’s cronies just made it worse instead of better.

    It’s what you should expect even. The first subjects of these kinds of takeovers are always already in trouble, because predators know the sick and wounded are the easiest victims. It doesn’t mean it was a natural death, that their prey couldn’t have recovered otherwise, or that the currently healthy have nothing to fear from them.

  20. mauvehaze says

    John Morales, I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend with my life my right (and the rights of others here) to point out that you are a jackass and a ninny for saying it.

  21. numerobis says

    Great American Satan: if you want to get back into animation, now might be a good time. At least in Vancouver and Montreal, hiring is getting hard.

    It’s a rough business though: you have fixed-term contracts and then you and your 60 closest colleagues all are looking for a job simultaneously.

  22. numerobis says

    (Am I a lesser being? I’m a programmer, but my programming is in service to artists.)

  23. petesh says

    @John Morales: Art is a need, for society. This is why every human society of which we are aware, back to the earliest, includes and values art. (In some sense, so do many, perhaps all, other species, but that’s a larger discussion.) Art is how culture forms. Individuals — such as you — can survive within society without acknowledging the importance of art, but they are essentially parasites; they — you — are missing something very important, are in fact incomplete people, the most prominent of whom at present is of course the current President of the US. Of course he — they — you — remain blithely unaware of this. Your loss.

  24. greenspine says

    I moved to the city where I live in 2001 to go to school for VFX and computer animation at an independent trade school. It was a 2-year program, and Art Institute bought out the school in the break between the two years. I also went back and taught there for a couple semesters after I graduated and started working in the field.

    In t warequirements were lowered, and people who still hadn’t grasped fundamental principles were graduating and trying to entring people maner the workforce. Iy times as well, and while there were have been a few good candidates, the quality of demo reels coming out of AI was almost entirely terrible. The people going through AI had stars in their eyes and the company took advantage of them, from admitting people who weren’t going to be able to do the work, through providing substandard training, to graduating people who had no chance of getting a job.

    tl;dr version: It has to bbe shedding a tear for the company. They were e heartbreaking for the people who lost money when Art Institute folded, but I won’tcharging crazy money for terrible service long before they got scooped up by a religious org.

  25. DanDare says

    “Shadows of Shadows passing… It is now 1831… and as always, I am absorbed with a delicate thought. It is how poetry has indefinite sensations to which end, music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry. Music without the idea is simply music. Without music or an intriguing idea, color becomes pallour, man becomes carcass, home becomes catacomb, and the dead are but for a moment motionless.”

    ― Edgar Allan Poe

  26. says

    numerobis – I never ended up getting into animation. The jobs where I live were all video game industry, where they expected endless unpaid internships to start a job as low as $20k/year at the time I graduated. Instead I went to work as a security officer, which thanks to some completely unchecked collusion between the contract security companies and their clients has only nominally better job security.

    Got laid off from every one of those positions, along with hundreds of other people. Crap situations beget crap situations. I was born in poverty and I’m on a trajectory to die in poverty + crippled. It’s what I get for letting con men sell me an expensive dream, I guess.

    I’m gonna bounce on this thread, but thanks for talking to me for a minute, bud. See you around.