Dunagan v. Illinois Institute of Art

Student Defense and Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin, LLC filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students who were misled by the Dream Center and the Illinois Institute of Art (IIA), a college with campuses in Chicago and Schaumburg, Ill. The lawsuit, filed December 6, 2018, accuses the school of hiding the fact that it had lost its accreditation for nearly half a year, while encouraging students to continue paying for courses and even graduate with unaccredited degrees. The lawsuit also names, among others, Dream Center Educational Holdings and the Dream Center Foundation, corporate entities that own and control the Illinois Institute of Art.

Update: On January 6, 2020, the federal judge hearing the case ruled that the lawsuit can continue, setting the stage for discovery and potential relief for students harmed by the Dream Center's deception and fraud. More here.

Update: On May 22, 2019, Student Defense client RJ Infusino testified before the House Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. The hearing, titled "Examining For-Profit College Oversight and Student Debt" examined RJ's experience at the Illinois Institute of Art, and how the school's deception derailed his education and career plans. You can watch RJ's opening statement here, and a video of the whole hearing here

Related Case:

The Illinois Institute of Art and its related schools were placed into receivership, and Student Defense is representing students' interests in those proceedings. More information is available here.


Case Background

In 2017, the Dream Center Foundation announced it was purchasing the Illinois Institute of Art and other schools from the for-profit Education Management Corporation (EDMC) for $60 million. The sale of the IIA campuses was completed on January 20, 2018. IIA’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), informed the school that it had lost its accreditation as of that date. Accreditation is the primary way that students, employers, and the public can have confidence in a college or university and is critical to students’ opportunity to transfer credits to another school or secure employment.

HLC explicitly instructed the Illinois Institute of Art to tell students that their “courses or degrees are not accredited . . . and may not be accepted in transfer to other colleges and universities or recognized by prospective employers.” IIA did not do that. Instead, it celebrated the change in ownership, telling students it was “very exciting news.” In February and April, the schools posted language in their online course catalogs, stating that “We remain accredited [emphasis added] as a candidate school seeking accreditation under new ownership and our new non-profit status.” This was false and remained uncorrected, despite HLC’s clear instruction.
For months after losing its accredited status, the schools continued to recruit new students and to accept tuition from its existing student body without disclosing the loss of accreditation. The annual cost of attendance at the Chicago and Schaumburg campuses was approximately $30,000.
The defendants did not acknowledge to students that IIA lost accreditation for a full six months and only did so after a June 19 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the deception. A few weeks later, on July 2, the schools announced they would close at the end of 2018. Even then, the schools continued to make misleading assurances to students, who continued to spend time and money pursuing devalued degrees.
For any student who attended or graduated from the Illinois Institute of Art at any time after January 20, 2018, his or her official transcript will contain a statement that the coursework or degree is unaccredited. These students will spend the rest of their lives with credits and degrees that have severely diminished value, through no fault of their own.

Case Documents