Art Institutes : legit photography school or total scam?

The Art Institutes is a well oiled, for profit network of schools around America. Are they worth the time and the money go attend? Is it true that it is a well run scam? Let’s get to the bottom of this, shall we?

I need to say from the start that they are run by Education Management Corporation that is a cover for Goldman Sach, the controversial investment group on Wall Street. In additon to the Art Institutes, they also own Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University.


It is also important to know that as of November 2015, Education Management Corporation has been delisted by NASDAQ and as early as 2016, plans were put in place to close almost twenty different locations around the country. There is also about a dozen of them with  accreditation problems.

What is the Art Institutes reputation?

In today’s world, where you go to school is more about their value in the market place more than what you actually learn. If two brothers go to school but attends Harvard and the other goes to the local state college; the one from Harvard will have a much easier journey into corporate America.

The Art Institutes has a reputation as being a very over priced, diploma mill. I am sure that this 11 Billion dollar fraud lawsuit by the Department of Justice is not helping their image, either.


Some could also make the case that Sgt. Chris Pantzke made that the schools are not worth “paper it is printed on” and that him attending the school was a waste of tax money. There was actually a documentary about made called  Educating Sergeant Pantzke. 

What about the photography course?

I have done work with graduates of the Art Institute of Kansas City (Not Kansas City Art Institute, that is a different school) and I was not that impressed with their technical knowledge of how cameras work or how to do creative work in general. It seemed that they were taught what to think but not how to think. I realize this could be just these graduates and it could be related to just the school in Kansas City. However, I tend to believe it is part of the culture of the Art Institutes.

The reality is that the quality of the education must be called into question. I would put it on the same level as what one would get at the local community college. I think the university level programs at schools like University of Missouri would be better than what I saw coming out of the Ai school.


I would think that you could take the $35,000 a year and travel to a lot of workshops with leading photographers and also pick up some amazing lens to use as well. The truth is places like Creative Live and others are leveling the playing field when it comes to photography education.

Let’s talk Art Institute tuition

Each school seems to offer a little different rate but according to the campus in Atlanta, the current rate is $35,274 per year.  If you wanted to go to school in iconic New York City, it is $20,000 a year but you have to find your own place to stay and your own food. It seems that the (now closed) campus in Kansas City cost $23,337 per year.

What does all this mean? Well, I went to a private university that is known for being on the upper end of tuition that is currently $21,000 per year. This is comparing a small art school to a nationally valued university that has graduates that has ran for the President of the United States.


I just can not wrap my mind around why someone would spend that much money for sub par education that you could get anywhere. The same level of knowledge could be received at Penn Valley Community College for about $3,000 a year.

What about the return?

Forbes consider the Art Institutes to be the worst ROI of all schools. A simple search will pull up dozens of people who graduated from their programs only to find all the promises of employment were completely empty. There is no jobs waiting for most of them.

This is especially true in the world of photography where most people have to make their own way and built their own studio. There is not many photographers that actually work for someone unless it is a war photographer in the military.


Going back to what I said about the reputation of a school being more important than the actual education you receive, having a degree from one of the Art Institutes is not going to open any closed doors in the art industry. Just a reality.

Kansas City Art Institute is much better!

If someone is looking to go to art school, I would recommend (without reservation) to look at the Kansas City Art Institute. It is a legit school and has among his former students Walt Disney. It is not a for profit school so if you can’t make it there, they will tell you on the front end. In fact, you have to have quite the body of work to even get accepted.

The cost of education there is not cheap either. However, the quality of instruction is much higher that what is offer at these for profit schools. All of the professors are working at a top level in their field. Being at KCAI does open door. I wish I would have went there when I was 20 but I didn’t.


There are other art schools out there but make sure it really a school of art, not some money making scam like the Art Institutes seems to be. It is a lot of money to throw away if you do not grow in your craft in the process.

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