Friday, March 1, 2013

Outside Just the Law Scam: More Scams

We’ve been talking about the Law School rent-seeking so much we may have forgotten about other, quite similar schemes going on. Truth is stranger than fiction: In the midst of the law school situation, I have been getting unsolicited daily calls from a place that calls itself “Academy of Art University in San Francisco”—and San Francisco is a long distance away from me, several thousand miles. There are already several for-profit “art” schools in my local area, so one would think I have little need to go cross-country to spend enormous amounts of money to get a piece of paper that entitles me to be an official “artiste”. The distance between the “Academy” and myself is hardly any restraint on their business model, however, since they have long since branched out on the lucrative low-cost-high-return online degree scheme. Tuition-seeking without so much as a classroom to rent! That scams most scams.

It is rather bizarre that I never signed up or even heard of this “Academy” before, yet somehow they have my address and cell phone number—in that sense, they are even keener hunters of student loan money than a fourth tier law school. There is no geographical limit on their online money grab, and therefore no limit to the amount of federal student loan money they can get—as if there were some kind of nationwide, critical shortage of inexperienced people who have vague aspirations to do graphic design work!

It reminds me that—depressing though the thought may be—the enormity of the law school crisis is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to the student loan money grab. (Or if you want to be optimistic, perhaps, as the Spanish-language phrase goes, one scam will finally be “The drop that overfills the glass”.) As a matter of fact, they should really call all of these things, “student loan scams” in general: no loans, no scam.

I wanted to look more into this for-profit school to see its similarities to the legal equivalent. The “Academy of Art” promoted itself a few years ago to be a “University”, as if the word “academy” were not erudite and high-status enough. The Internet is filled with one-star reviews of this “Academy of Art University”, yet people keep enrolling: 18,000 current students and growing by the student loan disbursement. Even the enormous Georgetown University Law Center has but 1/9th that number of students. Worse, as already mentioned, the “Academy” can “teach” nationwide via the Internet in ways an accredited law school cannot, and there is no Bar Exam to hold the “Academy’s” admissions policy accountable after graduation. There is no equivalent “Art Exam” to limit enrollment. The “Academy” uses an “open admissions” standard, which is an euphemistic (i.e., marketing B.S.) way of saying that they have no standards at all—besides, of course, tuition paid up front:

They have a 100% acceptance rate, and don’t take into account your previous background or portfolio for class placement, until you harass them. Students come from all different backgrounds, so you can expect to be thrown in a pile of students that don’t speak English, can’t draw, or have never done anything creative before. —Yelp review

And paid it will be, and the debt loads much better than the typical three-year law school:

The curriculum is constantly changing. I was six credits from receiving a BFA, but they suddenly tacked on a few more required courses to my major. I couldn’t afford two more semesters, so I had to back out and settle for an AA for which I’m now $100,000+ in debt. —Id.

Ignore also their attrition rate of 75%. AAU front-loads their schedule with easy classes to milk the weaker admits dry before weeding them out.

They accept anyone. I mean anyone. You’d better expect a bunch of goofballs and slackers your first few semesters. This problem is also dealt with leniently, meaning there’s not a lot of challenge until you’re deep into your major. —Id.

In that sense, for-profit “schools” like the “Academy of Arts University” are like producers of a mediocre Broadway play; keep showing it, no matter how bad or trite, as long as tickets are being sold. Worse than that, the “artists” earning the AAU’s “degree” are not actually paying for it—we are, the taxpayers and citizens of the country, through federal student loans. The “artist” has only the burden of paying back that money, but one cannot wring water from a pumice; you, the readers, have already paid for the tuition for those 18,000 future Warhols—and that tuition has not exactly gone to the advancement of “Art”. I don’t doubt that many of the students are individually talented, but the “Academy” as a whole is hardly responsible for that. Seriously, is there is a single great work of art that exists only because of the “Academy”? It ain’t Leonardo’s workshop, that’s for sure.

In a way, the AAU is more absurd version of the Law School game. Do 18,000 people, including many older students who might otherwise have previous higher education, actually think that paying a for-profit corporation $7,000-$12,500 a semester or more to take “online courses” will make themselves an “artist”? I vaguely recall an art history teacher in high school telling us that “art comes from within” or some such thing. I guess not; it must come from $100,000 of tuition payments!

Will I be the new Titian, the Cezanne, the Giorgione, if only I sign up for $100,000 of nondischargeable loans? I thought that much of art would be more suitable to learn by apprenticeship or workshop, not a degree program that lasts years and costs as much as a gently driven late-model Bentley. I know that in art, training is important to develop technique, but—online? How do you learn to paint or sculpt, make movies, or even to digitally draw online? For $100,000? If nothing else, as far as what career opportunities that law schools offers, at least there is still some Biglaw for the lucky few. But is there “Big Art”? White shoe graphic design firms? Millions to be made in mixed-media based judgments? If the “Academy of Art University” were older, Jackson Pollack would have been drinking himself to death because of his nondischargeable student loans. Pay enough tuition and you will be the next Clyfford Still getting another six month deferral on your balance! Or the next Rothko begging for a fourth forbearance!

Nothing could be more absurd than to institutionalize art credentials, since artist disciplines are so connected with inherent talent and creativity that regulating them is ridiculous. So it is depressing in the extreme to see that this student loan grab can be taken to the world of art, traditional or digital, and still fool both the “student” into thinking he will be the next Matisse, and the government itself to think that a for-profit business masquerading as an “Academy” is neither that nor (much less) a University. And to think this “Academy University” will give us 18,000 future Basquiats—or that their “guidance counselors” (i.e., commissioned sales staff) will recruit the next Kandinsky! From another alumnus:

The local utrecht (affiliated with the school) also gives current students $100 for recruiting friends—only when they’ve been here for 4 weeks (when tuition can’t be refunded), do you get your money. Do you really want to go to a school like this? —Id.

So let’s be reminded that the “Art” schools and countless other (especially for-profit) student-loan grabs are pulling the same thing that the law schools are.

Now that I think of it, there is even an Auto Repair scam. An Automotive-repair school once contacted me—I later inquired about the price, out of curiosity, but found out that to get a credential in automotive repair was at least $10,000 for the basic course. I do not know if there are actually jobs as a result of taking that course, but I doubt it, since most manual skilled labor is based on years of experience and not formal education. The course would really just have been student loans and education without experience.

The worse thing about these student-loan grabs is that they seem to permanently graft themselves onto society. Once hordes of “graduates” come out with their “art” or “auto-repair” credentials, whether a “certificate” or “degree”, employers—who don’t have to pay directly for the credentialed education—begin to expect them. We then have an institutionalized, highly overrated credential, acting as a cost to all and a benefit to only the credentialing authority. This spread of the credential eventually makes it expected from employers, and therefore sought out by students who know no better. Over time, the institutionalized credential is maintained by custom despite its artificial nature and lack of intrinsic value or actual benefit to either student or society.

As another alumnus of the “Academy” wrote: 

If you have money, but absolutely no artistic, creative, technical, or English skills and really want to be in any of the fields the school “teaches”, it’s a great place for you.
So we see, the situation of these for-profit art schools, as compared to our own “law” schools, differ more in subject than in effect. They are about the benefit to the school’s ownership and not the students or public. They end up greatly increasing the supply of employees in that discipline but not the demand from employers. While law schools have been more established, the policy of guaranteed student-loans has caused even disciplines like auto-repair and art—which have little history of formal degrees or classroom training—to spring up as if from nothing. How much longer will we have expensive “education” in things that society has no additional demand for?

Preston Bell ( is the author of the satire: Smarter Than Socrates: The End of the Law School Era.


  1. I think pharmacy is a good example of another scam. Look at this thread on

    1. Sound familiar?

      2000- 82 pharmacy schools
      2005-92 pharmacy schools
      2010-130 pharmacy schools
      I believe 10-15 new programs are trying to open within the next 3 years

    2. I bet that 10% work in hospitals as real pharmacists and the other 90% end up as pill counters at CVS and Wal Mart - the "doc review" of pharmacy.

      But at least they get to be called Doctor. JDs get to be called Asshole.

  2. Good post. I think that we will look back on this decade forever as the time when American higher education lost its way and turned into a sleazy business rather than taking a higher route and maintaining its integrity. And in the short term it might trap some idiots and take their money and ruin their lives and make some CEOs very happy, in the long term students will look abroad for cheaper, better education that we can provide here, and US colleges will be the laughing stock of the globe.

    Soon we'll have students in places like Chile and Finland and Saudi Arabia looking at us and saying they'd never go to a shitty system like we have for their education. And they will spend their huge sums of money in countries that try to maintain academic standards like most of Europe, the Far East, maybe even China if they can get their act together.

    This entire system is crumbling and law schools are just one part of it.

  3. The difference is that law schools go out of their way to publish stats that make it look like they are NOT scams. Do online art schools publish similar employment stats? There is a difference between attracting stupid people because they are stupid, and attracting the smartest people via outright deception.

    1. Agreed. The LSS is so harmful because it is the only education program that actively provides false salary and employment info. No other programs engage in that kind of behavior.

  4. Yeah, the marketing tactics of art and cooking schools make Cooley look honest. (The cooking school in my town charges $30,000 a year in tuition.)

    As Lawprof noted, law schools are only the canary in the coal mine. (The college I went to now costs over $220,000 to go to for four years.)

    1. ...and here is the key to all these scams...

      "Apply for financial aid and explore scholarship options.
      Once you have enrolled at Oregon Culinary Institute, a financial aid officer will help you determine the best opportunities for your particular situation, and help you through the application process. Federal Financial Aid grants and/or loans are available to those who qualify."

  5. Great post. It's a good reminder that when we are talking to family/friends, especially the "less sophisticated" ones, that we need to explain the risks of going to any higher ed institution, not just law school.

  6. Why did you start getting calls?

  7. It would make sence to just scam surf once you complete the first one. You are screwed so why not be an educational scammee for a career choice?

  8. There is an article on the WSJ law blog where campos gave an interview. Any idea on how to read it without the subscription?

    1. If you have a subscription you can read the part where Campos says "..and that fat, disgusting slob, Leiter, can go fuck himself."

  9. somebody needs to do a takedown of leiter's bullshit response to lawprof stepping down.

  10. Lawprof spoke to a section of our local bar association yesterday. The personal price he paid for speaking out against the machine took its toll. We must carry on and not forget the price he paid to bring the scam to the mainstream.

    1. "The personal price he paid for speaking out against the machine took its toll."

      Interesting. At the local bar meeting or in general?

    2. in general. he was well received by the bar.

  11. Hate to do this but:

    Matthew 13:57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor."

    It is true.

  12. "Total student debt stands at $966 billion as of the end of 2012, with a 70 percent increase in both the number of borrowers and the average balance per person. The overall number of borrowers past due on their student loan payments has also grown, from under 10 percent in 2004 to 17 percent in 2012."

  13. This is a terrific blog. I look forward to visiting every day and forwarding links to others. Keep it up!

    1. Good to see you and Lawprof will be around on this new blog! Great to hear from both of you!

    2. Great to hear from you, DJM. And a sincere thanks to you for your contribution to this movement.

      Would you consider an occasional post here?


  15. I live in San Francisco. The Academy of Art is a simple real estate scam. Google it, and you'll see. It is somewhat of a joke around these parts, but there are always people from far away willing to pay top dollar to "study art" in San Francisco.

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  53. There aren't any really savvy schools in San Francisco, unless you go to the state or the city college (which is not accredited anymore so its pointless). Its another city using a big city reputation to lure in students to colleges that do not have proper housing or even proper accreditation for students. As a whole , the city of San Francisco should be ashamed of themselves for trying to push themselves as a fun college city.

    I went here for a small term and needless to say I am humiliated. Between the cigarette smoking students who couldn't design (there were some great ones, but they were few) and the crappy school financial aid and reputation it is a mess. I was an idiot and was accepted into every art school in the whole Bay Area but being money savvy I chose the cheapest. GOD did I MESS UP. You are charged $2,900 to stay with a roommate in the "dorms" which were outdated hotels. I am looking at at you Hotel Commodore on Sutter Street.This school is not accredited, is a scam with all the buildings shooting up all over the city. Now they are airing commercials and I cringe for the incoming freshman. DO NOT GO HERE.