Money woes prompt private digital arts college to pause classes

The Edmonton Digital Arts College has suspended classes until it can sort out cash flow woes, says its executive director and owner.

File photo: Owen Brierley is owner and executive director of Edmonton Digital Arts College, which has suspended classes due to financial troubles. Larry Wong / Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Digital Arts College has suspended classes until it can sort out cash flow woes, says its executive director and owner.

Digital media producer and Edmonton Digital Arts College owner Owen Brierley said he’s trying to finalize a deal to sell the private college, and hopes classes can restart next week.

“It is the hardest thing,” Brierley said Thursday. “I love this school. I have put every drop of my soul into this school.”

Meanwhile, students who have borrowed or shelled out thousands of dollars are in limbo.

Video game design student Andrew Zimmer said students were unexpectedly dismissed from class on Wednesday, and told classes were off until further notice. An instructor told him the college was having financial problems, he said.

“I’m kind of mostly shell-shocked,” Zimmer said on Thursday. “I’m still hoping for the best. It’s quite upsetting.”

Students nearly finished will graduate

Zimmer, 25, who started the 10-month program in April, took out a student loan for $17,000 to attend the college. He’s not sure what will happen to that money if classes don’t resume.

There are comparable programs at other post-secondary institutions, but the pace and the methods are different, so it would be like starting over, he said.

“It’s a potential huge waste of cash,” he said.

Brierley said he’s doing everything he can to make sure the 50 students are taken care of. He’s updating them daily, and, in a worst-case scenario, offering to find them placements in other institutions’ programs, he said.

Laurie Chandler, press secretary for Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, said if an Alberta post-secondary institution closes, the ministry would work to place students elsewhere.

Edmonton Digital Arts College Students who are a couple of weeks from graduating will get their diplomas and transcripts, Brierley said. If classes resume, the college will make up the lost time.

If a deal with an unnamed buyer for the college goes through, classes can resume, he said.

The college receives no public funding and is subject to the whims of the economy and market demands, he said. Enrolment had dropped by a few students, which hurt its bottom line. The college also moved to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton in January to reduce its lease costs, he said.

Students are asking how they can help, and Brierley is asking those who feel comfortable to pay remaining tuition early to help keep the college afloat.

“It is a difficult time for us, but we are not dead. We have not closed the doors,” he said.

The school opened in 2002 as Guru Digital Arts College before rebranding, said Brierley, who’s been executive director since 2008.

Students still working

While they wait, some students have agreed to meet and collaborate on ongoing projects, Zimmer said.

He said students can still access the college’s space and some teachers have volunteered to spend some unpaid time guiding them.

It was the focus on project work, shorter time to graduation and opportunities for guidance from people in the digital design industry that drew Zimmer to the college.

He said he wished he had more warning something was awry.

“This is all quite sudden and troubling.”

jfrench@postmedia.com