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Students Sue Dream Center & Illinois Institute of Art for Hiding Loss of Accreditation

The National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN) and Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin, LLC this week 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 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.

“By hiding the loss of accreditation, the Dream Center showed a callous disregard for the truth and for its own students,” said NSLDN President Aaron Ament. “We are seeking some measure of justice for these students, whose lives have been disrupted and plans thrown into disarray. Students make real sacrifices to seek higher education and they deserve to be treated honestly by the schools in which they place their trust.”

"What Dream Center and the Illinois Institute of Art did to its students—withholding information vital to our education—is immoral, unethical, and indecent,” said Jessica Muscari, one of the named students in the case. “The schools’ lies and deception, when they knew full well they had lost their accreditation, is predatory behavior that should appall anyone who cares about the integrity of the educational system.”

The lawsuit filed by NSLDN and Edelman Combs is on behalf of four named students and seeks class certification so that all students harmed by the school’s deception can be made whole.


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.

Although all IIA campuses are closing in 2018, Dream Center Education Holdings and the Dream Center Foundation continue to own and operate approximately twelve Art Institute campuses across the nation, as well as multiple Argosy and South University campuses.

The complaint filed by NSLDN and Edelman Combs is available here.


The National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that works, through litigation and advocacy, to advance students’ rights to educational opportunity and to ensure that higher education provides a launching point for economic mobility.

Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin, LLC, is a law firm focused on protecting the rights of consumers through individual and class action lawsuits. It is one of the largest consumer rights firms in Illinois, and since 1991 has recovered more than $500 million for consumers. For more information visit

Tags   Litigation