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Art Institute of Pittsburgh to close by March 31

Tom Davidson
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The Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s old building in Downtown.

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh will close March 31, according to a filing from the school’s parent company to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The plan, submitted to the state Jan. 28, will allow 286 of the 2,154 students enrolled in the school to complete their programs before it closes.

The school opened in Pittsburgh in 1921.

The filing cited “significantly declining enrollment” as a reason for the closure. Only 230 students attended classes at the Art Institute’s Strip District campus. Another 1,924 took online classes through the school.

The news was announced to staff and students at the school Friday, according to the filing.

It’s sad news for alumni of the school like Matt Michalko, 29, of Brentwood.

Michalko earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and now works as an art director for a Pittsburgh advertising agency.

“My experience there was great,” Michalko said.

Although at times the school “had a bad rap” because of its management, Michalko said there were teachers there that cared about their students. He credited his time spent at the school for fostering his successful career.

“It’s a shame to see it happen, because I think there’s potential to have it be a great design school,” he said.

The Los Angeles-based Dream Center Education Holdings bought the Art Institutes in 2017 from Education Management Corp., which had been based in Pittsburgh. EDMC CEO Mark McEachen praised the deal at the time, calling it a celebration and saying “nothing but good things” would come out of it.

Closure of the school makes the end of a rocky road for the Art Institute, which once was based Downtown. There were several years of financial struggles, public relations problems and sagging enrollment. Creditors assumed control of the EDMC in 2015 in exchange for erasing $1.3 billion in debt. Later that year, the school settled for $95.5 million a whistle-blower lawsuit that accused EDMC of paying recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled.

Dream Center officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. It also operates Art Institutes in 18 other cities across the country, plus nine campuses of Argosy University and three campuses of South University.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-487-7208, [email protected] or via Twitter @TribDavidson.