As Art Institute faces closure, students worry about their future

Jane Stancill, The News & Observer

The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham is based out of the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham. Photo by Zachery Eanes, The News & Observer

The sign at the door of the Art Institute in downtown Durham this week welcomed students back, telling them to pick up their class schedules for the new academic session.

But Ladazah Bell, 19, an interior design major from Durham, didn’t bother. She withdrew from the school about a week after learning that the Art Institute campus was no longer accepting new students and would likely close at the end of the year. When she asked for her transcript, she was told she owed more than $2,000, even though her last statement said she owed $600.

Bell had applied and been approved for a loan for the new term, and she has no idea what will happen now to that money or to her future.

“It’s sad,” she said. “We’re just stuck and lost.”

Her mother, Tamara Peak, has been on the phone trying to get answers. She estimates they’ve borrowed $40,000 so far for Bell’s education.

“Here she’s working to try to become something, and she can’t,” Peak said.

Dream Center Education Holdings announced that it would stop enrolling new students at 30 campuses around the nation, including Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, Art Institute of Charlotte and South University in High Point. The campuses are expected to close by the end of the year.

The for-profit schools were supposed to become nonprofits, but Dream Center said it would close campuses because of declining enrollment and increased demand for online programs.

A spokeswoman for the company, Anne Dean, said in an email that the school staffs are meeting with students in groups and individually to determine the best path forward to complete their education.

“We will be working with students to decide their next course of action on a case-by-case basis, as soon as possible,” Dean wrote.

Dean said release of students’ transcripts to requesting institutions won’t be held up for financial reasons.

Schools are reaching out to “partner schools” in each market in the coming weeks and months to find other opportunities for students, Dean said. In the meantime, the company is offering several options for students, including:

Finishing their studies at the campus, if they can complete a degree by the end of the year. Tuition will be reduced by 50 percent.

Finishing their degrees online at another Dream Center campus. Tuition will be reduced by 50 percent for the remainder of the program.

Transfer to another Dream Center campus for face-to-face instruction in the same major. Tuition will be reduced by 50 percent for the remainder of the program.

Transfer to a partner university that is not part of Dream Center. Students who take this option are eligible for a $5,000 tuition grant.

It’s unclear what the partner universities are for the North Carolina campuses.

Jordan Comer, 21, of Winston-Salem asked for a list of partner universities but hasn’t received it. Comer had transferred to the Art Institute because she wanted to study interior design.

In Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College is reaching out to Art Institute students with an information session Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. in the Zeiss Building, Room 1106, 1231 Elizabeth Ave. Parking is available in the employee/theater parking deck, accessible from East 4th Street.

Students can meet there with CPCC counselors, learn about programs that align with their areas of interest and meet faculty and staff from programs such as graphic and web design, interior design, filmmaking and photography, culinary arts and many others.

Wake Tech in Raleigh is also offering Art Institute students a hand. It set up a website for students interested in transferring and has designated an adviser just for them.