School of Hard Knocks

Former students of a local high-tech graphics training program paid up to $25,000 for their diplomas. Many say they didn't get the education they were promised. The school dismissed their complaints; state and federal authorities didn't.

"I took a tour of the school and was led to believe that it was a very simplified course," he explains. "I had none of the prerequisites, no art training, no animation training, no graphics training. There was no room for me in what I thought was the introductory course, so Darcy Cross, my 'guidance counselor,' asked me if I would wait 'til September to start. I said, 'No, either you take me now in this class or I'll go to Brown Institute.' So Darcy gave me a little test on a little piece of paper, draw a straight line here or there," he continues. "At this point I didn't really want to go there, so I attempted to flunk the test. I never saw my test again after it was taken out of the room. Darcy came back in 15 minutes and said I'd passed and that he'd found me a spot.

"I get home that evening and call him back and say, 'Hey, there's been a mistake, I'm in the more advanced class instead of the introductory class.' He tells me not to worry about it because the first class is just introductory and I know DOS commands. I got in there on the first day of class and figured out I was in the wrong spot, it was much more advanced. There were people in there who were artists along with guys like me in there who couldn't tell you one end of the pencil from the other."

If Allen he had been a more wary consumer, he says, he would have seen the problems right from the start. Making matters worse, he says, his instructor seemed unprepared to deal with students with different levels of expertise. "There really wasn't any curriculum," he explains. "Nobody knew what to teach, and pretty soon our instructor was teaching by the seat of his pants. He'd go home at night and whip up something for the next morning or we'd go through something he'd thought of in class. It was a big mess."

Cory Rasmussen

Dozens of students echo Allen's feelings of resentment, with their complaints ranging from not receiving job-placement assistance to not getting the instruction, curriculum, and use of materials and facilities promised them in their contracts with the school. The situation is so bad, one local lawyer currently in negotiation with SCA on behalf of several students who want tuition refunds refused to go on the record about his clients' cases. The exposure, he fears, could encourage other student complaints. "It could quite easily turn into a class-action suit, which might force the school into Chapter 11," he says. "If everybody complains, the claims will be so high that the school wouldn't be able to pay, and I'm not in this for the exercise of it."

"There is no question that the school has serious problems," says Jason Kliewer, who expects to graduate in February. "I went into computer art and animation after taking the prerequisite computer graphic design and was a little surprised to find people in there who had never used a computer before in their lives. It seemed like there were different prerequisites--basically whatever it took to fill the class."

Students with complaints, administrators say, are malcontents, and in some cases are being used as pawns in SCA's increasingly thorny tangle of legal troubles. That's how administrators dismissed a letter of itemized grievances sent in July to the private, nonprofit Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology by a group of SCA photography students. In their letter, the students charged that they were "completely dissatisfied and disappointed with the level of education" they had received, were stuck with extremely limited access to facilities and defective equipment, and had been charged different tuition prices for the same course.

SCA responded that the students' complaints to the accrediting agency were part of an organized vendetta prompted by the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, which it alleged was out to get the school. "I believe that the students who made this complaint have been coached by Paul Thomas of MHESO in order to facilitate his continuing vendetta against SCA's president, Roger Klietz," Mike Manthei, then the school's director of education, responded. "This is a rather convoluted issue and is even more obfuscated by MHESO's involvement." The students, most of whom had never spoken to Paul Thomas, were baffled by this response.

Serious students, avers the school's Vice President Kathy Dale, wouldn't have time to complain because they would be busy doing their school work. As an example, she points to Jennifer Sealy, a computer-graphics and animation student who spent two years and $23,000 getting her degree. In June, Sealy waved her diploma in front of a KMSP Channel 9 reporter during that station's investigation of the school, griping, "I got this piece of paper out of it, but that's about all." Klietz dismisses KMSP's piece as "yellow and extravagant journalism."

"Sealy didn't voice one concern while she was here," Klietz says. He describes her as "a mediocre student at best," adding that in his opinion, Sealy was prompted to speak badly about the school by disgruntled ex-instructors.

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My Voice Nation Help

At that time I believed this article was part of a smear campaign against our institution which was attempting to do nothing more than deliver on the mission I spoke of above. I stand by this belief today, over sixteen years later. When reading this article without context what it alleges appears shocking. However, I provide the following information to help provide a more accurate lens to view this article from.

Please keep in mind, all students enrolled at our institution were graded according to the procedures and policies in place at the time. These procedures were the duty of our then Director of Education and other staff to follow. We were, at the time, a relatively "new kid on the block." Along the way we made mistakes, but the institution always had the best intentions of our students at the front of the administrative decisions we made. Many of the statements made in the article, while based on some morsel of truth, are without doubt sensational and exaggerative in nature. When concerns were actually brought to the attention of administration, the institutions staff were expected to act according to its published policies and procedures at the time to correct any issues.

Consider the following extract from the article:

“ ‘We just didn't have the students signing up for the classes so I laid these guys off,’ he says. Manthei calls instructor Todd Crooks, who also claims that his firing followed pressure from school officials about the investigation, a ‘conspiracy-monger and a jailhouse-lawyer type,’ blaming him for stirring up anti-administration sentiment among students. ‘After I gave Todd his 30-day notice, he went into the classroom and started spouting off about all this foolishness and passing out private documents to students.’ ”

The truth of the matter is that faculty were employed on a term-by-term basis. There was nothing hidden or sinister about this. All new faculty were made aware of this fact and were employed on this basis. While we do our best to retain faculty, if the institution did not have classes to be taught then the faculty members contract was not renewed. This is a prime example of how truth can be used to spin mistruth.

In all instances where inferior practices were identified the institution has now corrected its former practices, which were admittedly inferior, to be in alignment with its licensing, accreditation and regulatory bodies. As we did then, we continue to strive to adhere to these rules and provide the best educational environment for our students to become gainfully employed, productive members of society and to fulfill their professional dreams.

As a final note:
The article was never updated with the final resolutions of either federal or state level cases. Also, the paper in which the article appeared, is a small weekly publication. The leading mainstream newspaper in the Minneapolis area, the Minneapolis Tribune had no interest in reporting any related “news” on the school. In the end, the suit for wrongful termination of Moye failed to find the school responsible on whistle blower charges. A freedom of information request by the school provoked an inflammatory letter sent by Minnesota official Paul Thomas to government regulators. The court records reveal that Thomas and Moye were in established contact on Moye’s plan to assist in opening a competitive school.