From left, Marili Ochoa, Bryan Gomez and Julia Szkiba

From left, Marili Ochoa, Bryan Gomez and Julia Szkiba


Art Institute Fashion Students Scramble After Their College Shuts Down


Mona May

For 150 fashion students at the Art Institute of Hollywood, their future now hangs in the balance after their college closed without warning earlier this month.

Some of these students were just months away from graduating from the campus in Los Angeles’ North Hollywood area. Students said they had no idea if they were going to receive diplomas or if they would get transcripts so they could transfer to other institutions.

The for-profit university closed on March 8, which meant that one of the highlights of the year for fashion students was canceled. That was the quarterly portfolio show scheduled for March 13. It is an important event where students can present their fashion projects and fashion executives are invited to meet possible job prospects.

Julia Szkiba, an adjunct fashion professor at the college, lost her job when the school closed, but she wanted to make sure that her graduating students had a chance to put together a final portfolio show, so she scrambled to produce a show at Indie Source, a downtown Los Angeles manufacturer and fashion-consulting business located at The Reef, the building that houses the LA Mart. More than 15 students showed up for the March 20 event and set up presentations of their designs.

Speaking to them were fashion-industry veterans including Mona May, a Hollywood costume designer who worked on the movie “Clueless.” Scott Wilson, a sewing contractor, was there as were Chris Walia, chief operating officer for fashion-technology provider Tukatech; Frances Harder, author of “Fashion for Profit”; and Jill Mazur, a Los Angeles business and technology consultant. Also present were Dov Charney, owner of Los Angeles Apparel and Shahrooz Kohan of Aims360.

May was scouting for interns and gave career advice to students. “Some of them are quite talented,” May said of the exhibiting students. Her advice was to think of how the market will react to their ideas. “How will people wear [your fashions]? Is it sellable?”

In the past, Zack Hurley, Indie Source’s co-founder and chief executive officer, has hired interns from Art Institute of Hollywood.

What’s next?

Fashion students at the college were still reeling from the sudden closure of the school. Bryan Gomez, a U.S. Army veteran, had anticipated receiving his bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing and Management, but his plans were upended when he received a March 6 email informing students the school would be closed at the end of the week.

In previous months, there had been a lot of rumors about the school closing. But Gomez and others thought they had some breathing room. “We were guaranteed this quarter. I thought that I would be safe, I would be good,” he said.

March 8 was the last day the campus administration office was open. Students crowded around the office to get their transcripts, which turned into a chaotic scene, Gomez said. “It was like a movie scene going on. There were news cameras and security guards. We were told that we had to get out of the building at 3 p.m.”

Students who did not receive copies of transcripts were left in limbo. They were referred to an email and a voice mail where they could send a request for their records.

Tuition at the school was approximately $30,000 a year, said Anjee Beckett, a costume designer who also had been an Art Institute faculty member since 2005. Beckett said that the now-shuttered program had focused on giving students hands-on experience with internships at Los Angeles fashion brands. “We prepared students for the real world,” Beckett said.

Fashion student Marili Ochoa had a few more quarters before she completed a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design. While exhibiting her sustainable designs at the Indie Source event, she considered what she was going to do next. She probably will not transfer to another college, she said, because she was told that many institutions wouldn’t accept credit for her art classes. That means she has to start over.

There’s also the question of her $50,000 student debt. She was going to investigate a student-loan cancellation program called the closed-school discharge. It’s available for those who go to schools that close before students graduate.

Despite not receiving a degree, Ochoa said all was not lost. “It was not in vain. I learned enough to get an entry-level job,” she said. “The teachers became mentors and friends. They know a lot of people. They say that they will introduce us to people. The teachers really cared.”

The Art Institute of Hollywood was part of the Argosy University chain of for-profit schools. Earlier this month, Argosy filed a motion for the emergency closure of 22 campuses. The U.S. Department of Education has accused the school’s parent company, Dream Center Education Holdings, of mishandling around $13 million in financial-aid money.