The Demise of the Art Institute

I think shadenfreude is taking delight at the misery of others, usually your enemies. I think there’s a corollary where you leave an enterprise – either voluntarily or not – and the thing which was running well when you left then falls apart. It’s a roundabout way of getting a compliment that they couldn’t get along without you. Happens in sports a lot.

So when I left the Art Institute of CA / San Diego in April of 2015 there was a slight tinge of “gee I hope they miss me.” And over the next few years my colleagues let me know that they did. So that was enough to scratch that itch. The place didn’t have to fold for me to feel appreciated. But fold it did.

In the 80’s I was asked to be a guest speaker in a copywriting class in Chicago- talking about music in advertising. I liked it. Then I got asked to be a guest speaker at The La Jolla Academy of Advertising Arts – also talking about music. I liked that, too. One of the students remembered me, and when he later was in charge of hiring teachers, asked me to teach a broadcast copywriting class. I often wonder how deep in his rolodex he had to get before he got to me.

I liked the class, and taught there during a horrible ad slump in the mid-90s. When business picked up again, I left. As the Millennium hit I had a nice mix of high-tech, healthcare, entertainment, sports (The Padres) and two airline accounts. Then came 2000, the dot-com bust and all of those sectors cut back. Some – the airlines – cut way back.

By then The La Jolla Academy of Advertising Arts had been acquired by EDMC in Pittsburgh and re-branded The Art Institute. Eventually there would be 50 Ai schools around the US and Canada. Ai didn’t want me for advertising, they wanted an audio guy to teach web design majors. So in 20001 I taught an audio class using Macromedia Sound Edit 16. Mics and speakers were what you’d expect an AV guy to buy at Fry’s or Radio Shack. No SFX library, except CDs they found in the bargain bin at Target. Yep, it was as bad as it sounds.

About that time I heard about lynda.com – online training for software – and decided I wanted to get into that world. Ai was growing and moved into a new building so I stayed at Ai and honed and refined my course content. I made my first Pro Tools DVD in 2004 – used it as the textbook for my class – and things were looking up. Lynda.com bought one of my DVDs and I thought either 1) they’re going to take all my content and have somebody else build their training or 2) they’re going to hire me to build their training. It was 2.

Then one of my fellow teachers in the web design program left, opening a full-time faculty slot. I got the slot, stayed 3 years there, then became Director of the web program. Just as that happened, Ai added an audio production degree. I’m pretty sure that the execs knew that audio was coming when they gave me web, and when audio rolled out they just added it to my load. Web was mature, stable and growing at a comfortable pace and had different needs then audio, which was brand new. Audio doubled each quarter. First 8, then 16 then 35, and I think 50 something starts was out biggest quarter. I was hiring 3 or 4 teachers every quarter.

We got up to about 220 students before it started shrinking a little. When you graduate 25 or 30 you need that many just to break even.

No matter what the interest of the student was when they signed up – song production, game audio, cinematic production sound, post-production, live sound, broadcast – they took classes in all of that. And the irony is that I hired teachers who were really strong in their particular area, but didn’t necessarily have similar strengths in all the other areas. Me, for instance. Strong in post-production but didn’t know or care about game audio.

I hired 16 faculty for the audio department and I’m proud of every one of them. Our campus led in pretty much every metric they asked us to measure – quarter after quarter. So when I hear stories that all for-profit schools are rip-offs and don’t provide a quality education – there is certainly some truth to that given the wide variety of schools and management, but don’t paint the Ai San Diego audio department with that brush. We worked every day to make sure students got the best education we could give them within the restrictions of the curriculum we were given.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *