Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The Art Institutes, a nationwide chain of eight privately held, post-secondary colleges focusing on creative careers, has abruptly closed its doors, leaving its students in the dark.
All of the schools' websites on Monday had been redirected to a "closed school information" page informing students that Art Institute campuses across the country will close on Friday and explaining how to transfer academic records to other institutions.
The shuttered schools, collectively held by Pittsburgh-based Arts Institutes International LLC, include Art Institute facilities in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va., as well as the Miami International University of Art & Design.
"All Art Institutes campuses and all of their respective branch campuses are permanently closed as of September 30, 2023," the website said.
The company said in an e-mail to students obtained by WSB Radio in Atlanta that although there is no formal transfer of credit agreements in place, "there will be academic and student financial aid staff available to students at the campus through the end of 2023."
"We are hopeful that the colleges and universities in each of the Art Institute markets will assist students and allow them to transfer their credits and complete their program of study," the message states.
The financially struggling Art Institutes were purchased by in 2019 by Education Principle Foundation, a nonprofit organization with ties to New York-based Colbeck Capital Management, according to an investigation by Inside Higher Education.
Before that, the Art Institutes system -- whose history extends back to 1921 -- was owned by Dream Center Education Holdings, a religious nonprofit which filed for bankruptcy in 2019. That organization, in turn, had obtained the schools from the for-profit Education Management Corp., two years earlier.
The collapse of Dream Center Education Holdings left students with a choice of either trying to cancel their federal student loans and starting their schooling over again or attempting to transfer credits to other schools, even though credits from for-profit schools are rarely accepted by public or nonprofit private schools.
The abrupt move led to sharp criticism nationwide about the conduct of for-profit "career colleges."
Art Institutes students "were just trying to get an education and better afford their lives," Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in 2019. "But because of misconduct and mismanagement by the schools' owners, those students were not only blocked from achieving their goals, they were left saddled with debt and nothing to show for it. That's wrong."
A similar scenario appeared to be playing out at the eight remaining Art Institutes facilities whose closures were announced this week.
"We're kind of dumbfounded," student Victor Gaytan told KHOU-TV in Houston. "Some of us cried, including myself. We are still processing."
"We had our last day on Wednesday last week and nobody told us anything," fashion design student Gabriel Marrero told WTVJ-TV in Miami. "I'm pretty sure not even the teachers knew."