VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Students were left scrambling after The Art Institute announced it would be closing its doors for good.

The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, along with all of the other campuses in the Art Institute system, will close permanently on September 30.

Justice Perez Sanders, a graphic design student at the college, was accepted when she was 15 years old.

Now at age 16, she said she thought the email announcing the school’s closure was a hoax until she started making some calls.

“So, I went ahead and called my enrollment counselor cause I’m pretty close with her, and it said that the line didn’t exist anymore — the line was disconnected,” Justice said. “So, then I tried calling my financial — line disconnected. Then we tried calling a lot of other people who I knew there — line disconnected.”

According to an email the school sent to students, a culmination of events over the past decade, both external and internal to the campus operations, has forced the closure of this system of colleges. The college states that legacy challenges that occurred under previous ownership have ultimately led to its closure.

Additionally, the school cited its inability to absorb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as a major reason why it’s closing its doors.

Justice told 10 On Your Side she didn’t buy that, having talked with her advisor about spring semester classes two weeks prior.

“She even said, I’ve got you more in person classes we got this all covered,” Justice said.

Her mom, Sara, said her daughter graduated high school in just a year and a half.

Sara told 10 On Your Side that Justice was always talented in art, making many of her animated drawings just by using her phone.

Sara broke down in tears, saying the news was heartbreaking after seeing how hard Justice worked to get to this point.

“It’s almost like a sense of grief,” Sara said. “She has really, really always been goal driven, and to see that now her school has been taken away, her scholarship is gone.”

That scholarship paid for half of Justice’s tuition, which her family said was over $100,000.

The other half of her school funds were paid for by her mom’s 9/11 GI Bill.

They explained that after they received the email from the institution, they had to call Veteran Affairs to stop them from paying for the spring semester.

The end of the email stated that students would still be able to get their transcripts to transfer to other schools, but Justice said they ran into a roadblock.

“They shut everything down immediately,” Justice said. “They shut down the phone lines first and then they started shutting down all of the online stuff.”

10 On Your Side tried reaching out to the campus president for comment, but only got a voicemail.

Before announcing its closure, the school offered programs of study in disciplines such as design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts.

The school operates eight campuses across the country including:

  • Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Atlanta
  • The Art Institute of Austin, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston 
  • The Art Institute of Dallas, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Houston
  • The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston 
  • The Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design
  • The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta

In addition to other information about the closure, the school’s website includes information on transcript requests and transfer opportunities with other institutions the school says it partners with.

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