From Game Developer Dreams to a Topless Reality

Carrianne Howard had a dream: to design videogames for a living. That dream went awry when she realized that a degree she spent almost $70,000 on wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Now she’s a stripper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It sounds like the punch line to a joke, but Howard isn’t laughing.

Howard dreamed of developing video games, so she enrolled in a program at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, a for-profit college partially owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. But after spending $70,000 on the degree she came to the conclusion that it was worthless. When she went to find a job with her diploma proudly in hand, she figured out that it meant nothing and that it wasn’t recognized by most employers in the sector. Howard settled for a $12 an hour job recruiting employees for video game companies. She lost that job, which wasn’t even close to what she was looking for, a year later when her department was shut down.

These days the 26-year-old woman makes her living by stripping at a topless club.

"I didn’t know what else to do," she says. "I’ve got a worthless degree. It’s like I didn’t attend school at all."

It’s a plight that many Art Institute graduates face and now the Federal Government is looking into these for-profit schools.

Goldman, who owns 38 percent of the Art Institute’s parent company, Education Management Corp., was drawn to the for-profit college company because of its by their rapid growth and soaring stock prices. But that investment is coming back to haunt the company just like the mortgage industry; Goldman is having to defend itself once again for investing in an industry under attack from Congress, the White House and dissatisfied students like Howard.

At a Senate hearing August 4, the Government Accountability Office revealed details of an undercover probe that found recruiters at EDMC’s Argosy University in Chicago and 14 other for-profit colleges misled investigators. Based on this information and a myriad of complaints, EDMC is likely to face some repercussions at the hands of the U.S. Department of Education, who may restrict taxpayer-funded grants and loans to for-profit colleges like EDMC that offer $50,000 associate’s and $100,000 bachelor’s degrees in low-paying fields.

Goldman also has to be concerned that the White House is talking tough about for-profit colleges: on July 23, the Obama Administration proposed restricting – and in some cases cutting off entirely – programs whose graduates end up with high debt relative to the salaries that they might earn with a degree.

Meanwhile, EDMC is also facing complaints from its own graduates and employees; a lawsuit filed in Texas by 18 students alleges that they were "misled about the accreditation status of their program," and leaving them with debts they couldn’t repay. In another lawsuit a former admissions officer says that EDMC engaged in high-pressure sales tactics, paying staff to sign up students. In July dozens of faculty who tried to form a union at one Art Institute campus complained that unqualified students were being let into their classes.

Goldman spokeswoman Andrea Raphael said in a statement that the company invested in EDMC “because of its leading position in the private higher-education space, its successful track record, and its demonstrated commitment to its students.”

Source: Bloomberg

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  1. 0
    olstar18 says:

    To a degree all colleges do this however some colleges at lest give you degrees that are recognized in the field they were for. Girl I know got herself a nursing degree and while she had to struggle to keep up with payments and everything else when she started out she had the training necessary to get the job she dreamed about.

  2. 0
    Craig R. says:

    "ITT tech may be for-profit, but at least it’s nationally accredited"

    Actually, I was reading an article the other day talking about this. They sell you on ‘national accreditation’, but such accreditation is basically worthless if you need to take those credits to another college.

    It’s regional accredation that is important, and that’s what they don’t have. Another reason they’re buying non-profit colleges.

  3. 0
    Vinzent says:

    I went to ITT Tech. Things have changed now that they are supposedly offering real college degrees, but if you’re looking forward to earning an Associates of Applied Sciences like me, it’s somewhat worthless.

    Yes I was able to get low paying jobs in the technical industry. But if you’re looking to expand into management, an AAS won’t do. It’s Bachelors or nothing.

    They claimed they were accreditted when I went there too. They neglected to mention that they were accreditted by a private organization that also accreditted a school for pitching horse-shoes. They were not accreditted by the state.

    Like I said, I heard things have changed and they are now a real accreditted school, but do yourself a favor and find out. $50000 is a lot of debt to carry, especially if you’re only going to make $36000 a year.

  4. 0
    Speeder says:

    I am getting my game design bachelor degree this semester.

    I am only finishing it, because I already spent 40.000 USD anyway… :/

    Now I have -40.000 USD as assets, no job and soon I will be a proud owner of a useless degree!

    But I am male and ugly, I cannot be a stripper :( Ima screwed.


  5. 0
    Vinzent says:

    My personal observations…

    The degree doesn’t matter much. It’s the portfolio that demostrates his talent. He can take a bunch of programming classes at just about any college but I can’t think of one that does "game design" well. Admittedly my knowledge of such schools is limited. His best bet is to play (and analyze) games that get high ratings and read as many articles off of Gamasutra and anything else that discusses game design. Figure out what makes a great designer portfolio piece.

    Also, I’ve never met a designer that was hired on with no experience. He’ll probably have to start as a programmer and work his way up to game designer. Companies are loathe to risk a multi-million dollar game’s future with an unproven game designer unless his portfolio was incredible (like Portal).

  6. 0
    The_Bobman says:

    I work for a company that develops software, firmware and hardware as the lead software technician.  Although, we do not make video games, a lot of the same principles apply.  I am currently going to school for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at the local University.  Before picking my degree, I talked with several of the engineering managers as to what they felt was the pros/cons of a BS vs BA and Computer Science vs Electrical Computer Engineering.  From what I gathered, there is no reason to go to a school that specializes in game design and you have a lot better of a chance to land a job with a degree from a well respected University.  I would recommend the BS degree over the BA.  The only difference between the two is the BS requires more math.  And you can’t go wrong with taking more math.  As for CS or ECE, the ECE degree will most likely bring more opportunities, and provide a wider field of knowledge as it would include learning about the hardware side of things as well.  But when it comes down to it, from my experience as a tester, the programmers who write more stable programs are the ones who have been programming since high school and taught themselves.


  7. 0
    locopuyo says:

    I’ve met people with "game design" degrees and I wasn’t impressed at all with their skills.  From what I’ve seen at the game design schools you can focus on the programming or art side.  The programming knowledge that these people have gotten was about the equivalent of a 2 year community college.  There may be better schools than others but this is just what I’ve seen from my experience.  

    The best thing for him to do after he graduates would be to get a 4 year BA from a decent college in Computer Science.  Working on game modifications or independent games will give a big boost to his chances of landing a game job.  Then he always has the BA in CS he can fall back on for a non-gaming job.  

    After he learns the basics of programming a good next step would be to try making games using C# XNA.  It’s one of the easier languages to learn and one of the most useful as well.  This will allow him to transition to C++ easier as well as have an easier time getting a C#.NET programming job.   

    Pwnage of Empires

  8. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Personally, I would recommend finding a good conventional school with a game design concentration (or degree), thus he would at least have BS/BA from a respectable school to fall back on…

    Going to an acredited conventional school also insures that he has a solid background in general coursework.  People who come out as game ‘specialists’ tend to have a pretty short shelf life since they,… well, they are like technitions… trained in specific technologies without a broad enough background to transition easily… so if the market shifts they are really in trouble.  A good general CS (or math) background tells employiers ‘yes, I know wizbang studio version 3, but I can learn whatever you are using’.

  9. 0
    nightwng2000 says:

    My 14 year old son is very interested in a career in game programming.

    I bought for him "Game Programming for Teens" and "Game Creation for Teens" (they were a special combined set).  They come with a CD that contains BlitzMax and Blitz3D and a few other programs.  Unfortunately, the price for the full versions is rather high, from my current financial standpoint.  I hadn’t researched the books/CDs before I had bought them from a local brick & mortar book store, but they looked like a very good option for a Teen.

    After I had given them to him, and he showed high interest in them, I did a little after-the-fact research.  Seems, as Indie developers go, BlitzMax is a great tool and the books get fairly high praise, though one reviewer did point out that there were errors about every 3-4 pages.  And the author’s own "website" contains almost NO reference to the books.

    That being said, the books are great for a Teen just learning.  And many of the reviewers do point out that the industry itself is focused on C++ programming skills, though there is very little Teen-friendly training for C++.

    While he’s getting some experience in a non-structured form now, I am concerned about what to do for him once he graduates high school and if he still holds interest in game programming at that time.  I’ve seen the suggested colleges that the ECA recommends, and while one of them catches my eye, even for myself, especially with an included course in the psychology of evil and the characters he would create, I have to wonder what the vaule of a degree will truly be.  While he’ll get plenty of training in programming, design, and other areas, what value will the degree itself be once he tries to apply for an established business opportunity as opposed to becoming an Indie programmer or designer?

    This article, important as it is, fills me with less confidence and a bit more dread for the future than I originally already had.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  10. 0
    black manta says:

    ITT tech may be for-profit, but at least it’s nationally accredited.  I’m going there now with the intent on getting a degree in Internet Systems Security.  And their tuition isn’t that high compared to EDMC’s ($50,000 for a four-year degree).

    And maybe it has more to do with the geographic location, but since I’m in MD, a lot of branches of the Federal government like the FBI and the NSA have been actively recruiting from our campus in addition to the private sector companies.  So with any luck I’ll land a good position once I’m done.  Yes, ITT’s had their share of criticisms in the past, but I did some research before I decided to enroll and I think it’s safe to say that they’re pretty legit.

  11. 0
    Craig R. says:

    Hopefully the governemnt comes down hard on the ‘for-profit’ colleges. Their entire goal is to get access to Pell Grant and other student loan funs because they charge outrageous tuition – far more than a college or public university would charge.

    They’re there to steal your money.

    And worse, some of them like ITT have been buying hard-hit non-profit colleges as anoither way to prop up their fraudlent ways.

  12. 0
    Arell says:

    I looked into a for-profit online school for Medical Transcriptionists (I’m seriously desperate for more income at this point), but I couldn’t really verify if their degree was widely accepted by doctors, hospitals and labs.  I’ve put this idea on hold, but if I consider it again, I think I’ll go to a more conventional school.  There’s a technical college nearby that offers pace courses for the same thing, and even though it would take longer (and cost a bit more), I can at least confirm that their degree is legit.

  13. 0
    Neeneko says:

    A bit of an irony here…

    Years ago when I was in college I knew some strippers… the bulk of them were actually PhD students in social sciences that found stripping to be the most profitable and least degrading work they could find that still allowed them time to work on their degree.

    Heh… maybe this women will find a grad student at work to collaborate with and produce a serious game for someone’s thesis….

  14. 0
    Neeneko says:

    This is the first time I have heard them referred to as ‘for profit’ schools, but I guess from a tax standpoint that is probably true. 

    Most schools have a non-profit status since they do not have investers/stock/etc and all money is plowed back into the school.

  15. 0
    Zerodash says:

    This sounds like similar stories from other schools of this ilk, like the infamous Westwood College (Tighten up the graphics on level 3).  The lesson learned is to do your homework and research any school you are looking to enroll in.

    In all fairness, the >5 minute research I did didn’t turn up a ton of info on much dubiousness of their credentials.  However, I find it a bit of a misnomer to charaterise (sp?) these schools as being "for profit" as a contrast to other reputable schools.  I attended and worked for a major university (Rutgers), and there is no way you could argue it too wasn’t all about $$ (just look at the football program). 

    Still, shame on the schools for expoliting people’s drive to make a better life for themselves with hard work.

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