In the lobby of the Art Institute of Las Vegas, brightly colored flyers advertising the start of the summer quarter on July 8 hung on the walls as auditors worked upstairs to determine the beleaguered school’s future.
The accreditation visit on Tuesday came as a surprise to a group of teachers hoping to purchase the Henderson school and keep it running. William Turbay of SAVE Ai said they had approximately one week’s notice to prepare, time spent digging through faculty files and meeting notes out of their former campus director’s abandoned desk and scrubbing classrooms from top to bottom.
Despite the scramble, Turbay said he hopes the visit is a sign that a long-awaited contract to purchase the school may be forthcoming, perhaps even as soon as the start of the summer quarter.
“Through the insistence of the Department of Education, support from the media and pressure from the community and the students themselves, it’s going to happen,” Turbay predicted.
History and future
The compliance visit was the latest component in a monthslong effort to wrest control of the school away from a receivership formed after the school’s parent company, Dream Center Educational Holdings, went under in March.
Art Institute of Las Vegas teachers have gone unpaid since early May, while students are still waiting on federal student aid stipends that seem to have vanished with DCEH’s demise.
Turbay said he’s spoken to local banks willing to offer the school a running line of credit of up to $1 million to cover back pay and other operations, but the group needs a contract from court-appointed receiver Mark Dottore to purchase the school before it can move forward.
Dottore did not return a request for comment from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. However, his court filings were the subject of a New York Times story this month that found his firm asked for nearly $2.1 million in legal fees and expenses — including $676 stays at the Bellagio while he was negotiating with SAVE Ai. A statement from Dottore to the Times said some expenses were filed in error.
Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, another faculty member with SAVE Ai, said Dottore was likely looking to close the schools quickly and move on.
“The last thing (Dottore) wanted is a bunch of people out of Las Vegas trying to keep this school open,” she said. “If we weren’t here, he would be done.”
Mayo-DeRiso said the group’s priority is to keep the school’s accreditation in order so it can maintain its access to federal Title IV financial aid funds. Tuesday’s visit was meant to ensure that, she said.
Michelle Edwards, president and CEO of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which staged the surprise visit last week, said the agency has a right to “initiate on-site evaluation visits to or request specific reports from an institution at any time.”
Any action taken as a result of the visit will be available publicly in August, Edwards said.
If the teachers group succeeds in purchasing the school, Mayo-DeRiso said the group intends to run it as a benefit corporation, a type of for-profit entity that includes a social mission.
In some ways, the change would be a return to the school’s roots: The Art Institute of Las Vegas began as a locally operated design school in 1983 before it was purchased by DCEH in 2001.
For-profit schools are facing heightened scrutiny across the country. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Las Vegas, is among members of Congress looking into industry practices, recently introducing legislation that would protect students from what the bill describes as “fraudulent and misleading practices” found at those schools.
Mayo-DeRiso said the re-examination is understandable, especially given Las Vegas’ history of for-profit schools closing their doors over the years. She said she has no problem jumping through some additional hoops, like quarterly financial reports, but she hopes that other restrictions, such as those on adding a major like esports, are eased.
“There’s a real opportunity in the revenue model (of for-profit schools) to not do the right thing,” she said. “They take $1.5 million from every campus for marketing, and who’s gonna notice?”