By Shawn Chitnis & Karen Morfitt
DENVER (CBS4) –The Art Institute of Colorado said Monday it will stop new enrollment but work with current students to finish their academic programs after days of conflicting messages from the administration, according to students and staff.
“I’m feeling a little upset,” said Michael Pannell, a third-year student for game art and design. “I’m hoping that this wasn’t a massive waste of money.”
Other students echoed that frustration. They were concerned not only about the investment they had made in their education but the time taken to get far into their program. Raymond Forney says he just committed to a four-year degree at the school studying graphic design.
“That would be really unfortunate, that’s already $25,000 in debt,” said Forney. “I don’t know any other art institute or any art school I can get actual graphic design work in.”
A staff member for the admission office told CBS4 they had been notified of a change coming to the school but it was still unclear what would happen. The staff member spoke to CBS4 on the condition that their name not be revealed and that they were not quoted directly. The employee said different departments were told competing details about the school. It was unclear to this employee if they still had a job and how much longer they would be on payroll.
Dream Center Education Holdings is the parent company of The Art Institutes as well as other schools like Argosy University, and South University. The group acquired these schools late last year and said in a statement released Monday that it was evaluating the viability of certain programs based on student needs.
“We have made the decision to cease new enrollments for a number of schools within The Art Institutes, Argosy University, and South University systems,” the statement said. “This decision is for new students only and we will redirect prospective students to our online offerings or one of our other campuses. Current, active students should continue to attend class as scheduled.”
Other employees sent letters they received from their employer to CBS4. The company said in the subject of one of these letters, a “restructure,” and dated the note as of Friday. The letter acknowledged a challenging and complex environment for the business.
“As a result, your position has been identified for elimination,” the letter said.
The employee was told their last day was Friday but that they would get paid for another two months, according to that letter.
“I was terminated from my work study job, here and a lot of actual students here didn’t get any news at all,” said Pannell. “It sounds like they’re going to be closed in December, is my best guess.”
Another letter shared with CBS4 explains that positions will start to be eliminated with the school closing completely at the end of the year. But staff members later shared with CBS4 that another note had been sent out to redact that initial message. Students noted that on Monday the campus seemed empty, they did not notice anyone preparing for classes to begin next week.
The same day, competing schools like the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design say they were getting calls from some concerned students.
Neely Patton, Vice President of Academic Affairs at the school says they are willing to help those students as best they can.
“Our hope is definitely that we can support each student individually, luckily we have a lot of similar programs to AI,” she said.
What she does not want to see is a shift away from the creative industry because of the changes.
“Those professions are booming and we anticipate we will continue to see that growth. So we don’t want to see them give up and this is really something that can put a student at risk,” she said.
Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.