Yo, all you beleaguered Art Institute students. Harcum College, an associate's-degree-granting college in Bryn Mawr, has a deal for you: $5,000 in tuition assistance for any student affected by the institute's closure in Philadelphia and at other campuses.

Julia Ingersoll, executive vice president at Harcum, says the offer arose after the Art Institute's sudden closures this month in Philadelphia and elsewhere, which seemed "like taking advantage of vulnerable people."

Community College of Philadelphia also has plans to help. It's holding an "Express Enrollment for Art Institute Students Day" on Aug. 1, in which admissions, financial aid, and counseling staff will answer questions about transferring to CCP for the fall semester.  The college says these students "stand to save thousands of dollars in tuition costs."

Delaware County Community College is making a similar pitch. Though neither school offers a monetary scholarship, the Delaware County school touted comparative savings, with a degree costing from  "$2,904 to $5,808…compared to the Art Institute's average of $48,000 for an associate degree."

The plethora of offerings shows how competitive the field is for art, graphic design, and photography instruction, and how much students can save by shopping around.

"There is no return on investment for students who attended schools like the Art Institute," said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School. "Taking out loans to pay the high prices that these schools charge benefits their investors while leaving students with mountains of debt and without the professional opportunities they were seeking."

Merrill urged students to look at lower-cost options, including community colleges and longtime nonprofit schools.

Dream Center Education Holdings, which owns the Philadelphia Art Institute, did not respond to requests for comment. The company is closing 30 campuses around the nation this year, including its Philadelphia site, which will lose 171 jobs. Dream Center notified its 1,200 students this month of their options to finish their degrees once the school shuts its doors on Aug. 28.

Students on track to finish their degrees this year can continue their studies "without interruption" this semester and will get their tuition cut in half, Dream Center spokeswoman Anne Dean has said. But the choice is harder for those not close to graduation. Their options are:

  1. Finish their studies at another Art Institute campus (the closest are in Virginia Beach, Va., and Pittsburgh) with a 50 percent reduction in tuition.
  2. Complete their studies online, also at a 50 percent reduced rate.
  3. Transfer to a "partner university" that is not part of Dream Center and be eligible for a $5,000 tuition grant.

Some students are also concerned about an "external transfer student release form," which must be signed to get the $5,000 transfer tuition grant. It includes a nondisclosure agreement that "releases and forever discharges" Dream Center from liability.

Taking the $5,000 to study elsewhere also waives the student's right to participate in an individual or class-action lawsuit against Dream Center, according to the paperwork.

The art schools' students have not had a sterling experience finding jobs. Eleven Art Institute campuses, including Philadelphia, had one or more programs that failed the gainful employment accreditation rule for one year, meaning that too few graduates came out with well-paying jobs in their field of study, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Two years in a row of failed gainful employment would have put federal education funding at risk.

Harcum president Jon Jay DeTemple affirmed a pledge to waive the school's $50 application fee for "current and prospective Art Institute students."

The Harcum initiative gives a $5,000-per-year scholarship, and, is available for a second year if a GPA requirement is met.

Current Art Institute students who switch to Harcum to pursue an associate's degree can transfer up to 30 credits for majors that require between 62 and 97 credits.

That transfer credit can be more flexible than a public college or university, Ingersoll says, because Harcum will consider an art portfolio, "learning outcomes," and prior work experience for credit. Tuition at Harcum is $24,200 per year for a full-time student.

Harcum and CCP have both reached out before to students affected by sudden school closures. In September 2016, after the closure of the for-profit ITT Technical Institute, the schools offered a $5,000 scholarship to ITT students.