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Pittsburgh Art Institute could lose accreditation by November

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, 4:36 p.m.
In this file photo from June 2014, students worked on a video project at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The school is owned by Education Management Corporation, a for-profit college system that runs the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and other schools throughout the nation.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
In this file photo from June 2014, students worked on a video project at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The school is owned by Education Management Corporation, a for-profit college system that runs the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and other schools throughout the nation.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is in danger of losing its accreditation, which would cost students access to financial aid.

The school must convince the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that it complies with commission standards, according to a letter the commission sent to the school.

The commission, an independent accreditation agency, last month gave the art institute until Aug. 31 to submit a report containing proof of compliance and a plan for closing in the event the commission cancels its accreditation.

It requested evidence that the school can support increased enrollment in online programs, has clearly stated ethical policies and procedures to ensure student success, is honest in all publications and communications and operates independently as an academic institution. The commission wanted proof of affiliation with its parent company — Dream Center Education Holdings, based in Los Angeles, and its subsidiary Dream Center Foundation — including contractual relationships, and family or financial ties that could pose a conflict of interest.

The institute will maintain its accreditation status until commission members meet in November to decide the issue.

“They will be asked to meet before the commission and state their case for why accreditation should not be withdrawn,” commission spokesman Brian Kirschner said. “We want to make sure they continue to meet all of our standards.”

The art institute referred questions to Dream Center Education Holdings. Dream Center spokeswoman Anne Dean issued a statement saying the company plans to comply with the commission’s order.

“We are committed to providing all requested information to the accrediting body and to cooperating fully with this process to ensure the best possible outcome for our students,” she said.

Kirschner said a loss of accreditation would threaten the ability of students to receive federal financial aid and transfer credits from one accredited institution to another. Nearly 5,000 undergraduate students are enrolled in the school, according to the commission.

The commission has been seeking information about art institute operations since 2017 when Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp., the former for-profit owner, sold the school and more than 60 other postsecondary institutions across the country to Dream Center, a nonprofit. It placed the school on probation in February, citing insufficient evidence that it was in compliance with standards.

Dream Center cited declining enrollment last month when it announced it planned to close 18 art institutes by year’s end, including the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Students were given an option to enroll in the company’s other schools, including online programs, for half the cost of tuition.

The commission issued a similar order for the Art Institute of Philadelphia because the company failed to provide notice of the closure and change in ownership.

The sale of the Pittsburgh school followed years of financial struggles at Education Management and declining enrollment.

Creditors took control of Education Management in 2015 in exchange for erasing $1.3 billion in debt. They also settled a federal whistleblower lawsuit for $95.5 million that alleged Education Management violated federal law by paying recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled.

In 2016, the art institute moved after 16 years from a building at 420 Boulevard of the Allies to the Strip District. Pittsburgh in early August agreed to buy the building for city and authority offices.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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