Student Loan Truth: Chelsea’s Art Institute Story | Blog
August 19, 2020
After her 8 years in the Army, Chelsea Mack wanted to pursue her passion in fashion design and enrolled in the Art Institute of Seattle. She soon realized that her education wasn’t the prestigious one she was promised. Now, she wants the Art Institute of Seattle to be held accountable, but it shut down in 2019.
This is her student loan truth.
Why did you decide to attend the Art Institute of Seattle?
I really believed the Art Institute could give me the education I wanted. The minute I expressed any interest in attending, a representative reached out to me and invited me to campus to interview and tour. I hadn’t made a single commitment to enrolling when I got there, but by the time I left, I had enrolled for the following semester. Everything moved so fast. I never gave them any sample of my skills in fashion or any evidence that I even had any artistic skill at all, but somehow still managed to get enrolled in the program.
The way they worked with you, they’d draw you in like it was a cult. There were hundreds of potential students there for an open house. Faculty and staff were congratulating me for taking big steps toward my future, handing out portfolios of information with numbers about lifetime earnings, lists of specialty degrees, and potential salaries of $100,000. The message was that we wouldn’t have to worry about struggling to pay off our loans.
What was the financial aid process like?
After the tour, I met with financial aid. I knew the school was expensive, but they managed to convince me that this was the cost of a prestigious education that would open doors in the fashion world.
They also lied to me about what my military benefits would cover. I had extended my time in Iraq in order to receive these benefits, but they wouldn’t cover the entire cost of the Art Institute, and the financial aid department didn’t tell me that.
What was the experience like as a veteran attending a for-profit college?
Once I was enrolled, I worked part time in the Registrar’s office as a proponent of the Veterans Administration. My job was to verify that student veterans were taking enough classes and meeting academic requirements. I was blown away by the sub-par work and qualifications in the students’ academic packets. I felt like I was reading middle school level essays. I looked into it and realized that every single military application had been approved, but the second a student’s financial aid fell through, they would be kicked out immediately.
How were the classes and the overall education experience?
Part of their sales pitch to attract students is saying they had state-of-the-art facilities. However, when I arrived, I realized that was yet another lie they told potential students. All the machines were breaking down. I had to buy my own sewing machine. Teachers repeated the same things over and over and there was no accountability.
Were you able to find a job in fashion using your degree?
After graduation, I quickly realized my education was worthless. I applied everywhere I could think of, even if it had nothing to do with my degree. There weren’t that many jobs available and employers didn’t value a degree from the Art Institute. Though the Art Institute had promised connections to fashion jobs in Seattle starting at close to $100,000, I could only get a job as a personal stylist at Nordstrom at minimum wage. I couldn’t afford to stay in Seattle or pay my bills. To try to make ends meet, I became a realtor.
Where are you working now?
Now, I live in Hawaii with my mother, who is immunocompromised. Although I plan on working in real estate here eventually, I’m not currently working so I can help take care of her. My disability benefits help us with some of our bills and expenses, but it isn’t enough.
How has this experience and your student debt from Art Institute impacted your life?
All of my loans are currently in forbearance. I’m afraid that the Department will call me to start paying these loans off again, when I can’t. I’m a disabled veteran with PTSD and depression. The stress of my experience at the Art Institute and knowing I have $57,000 in loan debt is constantly affecting my ability to work, which then affects my mental health.
What do you wish you could tell the government and the public about your experience?
I need these loans discharged and the Art Institute of Seattle needs to be held accountable. Doing this to students is unethical. These schools are preying on people who were just trying to better themselves, and it needs to be stopped.