The Brooks Institute Borrower Data

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In May 2016, our group, which consists of hundreds of former students, co-signers and former staff began collecting data to track information and assess how the loans have impacted the financial lives. When the data began highlighting unforeseen areas, we approached the group with a new goal. To help borrowers find reprieve from their crushing debt and expose both Brooks Institute of Photography, its parent company Career Education Corporation (CEC) for their unjust actions.

While waiting for the Department of Education to process or even acknowledge our applications to the Borrower’s Defense to Repayment (BDTR), we continue to collect data and further the investigation on our own. Our hope is to find restitution from the corrupt system that allowed a higher education institution to defraud young and eager students that bound them to a lifetime of debt, while also pursuing indemnification for the gross injustices inflicted upon them.

Through analyzing both federal and private loans’ initial promissory notes, disbursement and interest amounts, this report provides accounting and statistics of the group members’ financial records. The intimate glimpses shared within this report reflect the continued impact experienced in the daily lives of former students, veterans, parents, and their children, and the heavy burdens that will last lifetimes.

If you have questions on how/why this happened. Please head over to our HISTORY – TIMELINE OF CORUPTION page.

Number of Borrowers

Total Student Loans Due

Average debt currently held per borrower:   $143,277






Brooks had over 22k students enrolled during the time CEC owned the school.


For decades CEC has successfully used high-pressure tactics and bait-and-switch techniques when recruiting and retaining new students at their for-profit schools. We have evidence of admissions representatives being coached to enroll students at high volumes, whether or not the students were qualified or could afford the excessive tuition. Admissions reps earned bonus-based commissions from brokered contracts with new enrollees. By instituting the corporate-wide policy, CEC directed admissions representatives to enroll non-traditional students who were more susceptible and vulnerable to these duplicitous approaches, including admissions representatives targeted first-generation college students, low-income students with limited financial resources, minorities whom were typically underrepresented, high-school seniors without traditional college options available to them, single parents, individuals returning to school with little to no previous college experience, and U.S. Military Veterans, whose hard-earned and easily accessed GI Bill was highly sought after by the commission-based enrollment sales team.

The admissions process was executed swiftly, utilizing arbitrary and urgent deadlines that allowed little time for the prospective student to pause and ask questions. The admissions representatives instilled a false sense of “missing-out” on the opportunity to be a candidate or to be accepted as a new enrollee. The requirements, deadlines, and financial expectations were intentionally confusing. They would ask deeply personal questions and then use the answers to manipulate the sales tactic. In several cases, students reported that their admissions rep informed them that they had been awarded scholarships or grants at the time of signing their enrollment agreement, only to arrive on campus ready to start their programs and find the funds were suddenly and inexplicably unavailable. In such situations, students reported feeling forced into taking out more loans under the ruse of being unable to attend without them in place.

Prospective Brooks students were promised easy job placement with statements of exaggerated starting salaries in careers in their field of study. Graduation and drop-out rates were underrepresented, and students were led to believe any instances of drop-out were due to student-specific barriers, unrelated to the school or industry they wished to study. Upon reflection, many students have compared the behavior of their admissions representatives to that of a used car salesman. Admissions counselors lied to students, their parents and cosigners. They were pushy and failed to fulfill their obligation to guide students through the academic process.

I discovered Brooks online. My admissions counselor contacted me almost immediately after I inquired about the school. They called me repeatedly at work the next day. To say the least, it was relentless. For days and days they continued contacting me. I was so convinced this was the best choice and that taking out the maximum from a private loan company would benefit me. I was sold. $25,000 per year. I was all but assured I would graduate with great job placement. Little did I know, as a stupid kid, this was a fallacy.

Arin Whitlock - c/o 2010 - Current Debt: $153,000

The private loan system works on the free market principle, which is significantly different in comparison to the governing rules of federal loans. Brooks Borrowers who signed up for these loans were not made aware of the difference. Other borrowers who placed their loans in deferment or forbearance post-graduation, or who made late payments, or who defaulted on their loans at any point, saw their interest rates jump from 6.8% to as high as 28%. Adding compound interest accruing daily, it is impossible for the majority of Brooks Borrowers to overcome their student loan debt. Many, if not all students that owe on private loans have reported that their lenders refuse to work with them to create a more manageable or proportional payment plan reflective of their income, feeling intentionally forced into default status.

I was told by my original recruiter (prior to starting the school) and the Admissions Department (at the start of my school career) that there was a 97% placement rate and most graduates make over $100,000.00 per year. I was told that most students couldn’t afford tuition without financial assistance, which you can receive through the school [and] was a very easy process. I was also told that I would have no problem paying back the money with the income I would be earning if I graduated from the school.

Anonymous - c/o 2006 - Current Debt: $178,000

Numerous Brooks Borrowers have experienced ongoing harassment campaigns waged by their lenders that blatantly violate The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act despite complaints made to the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB). Many Brooks Borrowers report the school did not meet its obligation of properly educating them of the intricate details governing these loans. The students were also led to believe that their private and federal loans had the same type of repayment options, interest and regulations.

Several institutions owned by CEC and several state Attorney Generals have had multiple formal complaints and lawsuits filed against them that detail the overarching unethical enrollment and recruiting procedures, echoing experiences similar to former Brooks students. In 2004, Brooks was subject to an undercover investigation by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE​), alleging that the school falsified student records to ensure that the school passed inspections by accreditation auditors.

Because this school was “accelerated,” it meant our semesters were held every eight weeks, which ended up being six weeks of class, one week of finals and registration, and one week off. This also meant tuition was due every eight weeks. Registration looked something like this: you walked into the main school corridor where you were given free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee, you stood in line to pick your class for the next semester, then another for financing where they phrased it with “you were awarded [max amount they can legally dispense to you] please sign here and go to the next window to pick up your check.” What college kid doesn’t want to be awarded with free food and checks?

Ashley Pizzuti - c/o 2003 - $170,000


During CECs 15-year ownership of Brooks Institute, an estimated 22,679 students were enrolled. In the year 2000, the cost of tuition was approximately $15,540 per year – this increased by more than 58.3% percent to $24,600 by 2015. Lab fees, cost of living, professional equipment, and required supplies like software were not included in tuition, but students were encouraged to borrow more to cover those expenses. Brooks continued to increase their tuition and fees for each session while also managing to increase their student enrollment.

Until 2011, Brooks operated on an academic calendar consisting of six 8-week “sessions” per year. Students would have seven weeks of intense class time, with three classes per session followed by one week off, every 8 weeks year round. After 2011, Brooks switched to a semester system.

Each session had a mandatory lab fee of $100 plus the instruction fee, hovering around $4000. Students were told that there was an expansive “library” of equipment available for them to borrow, but were required to cover the expenses for additional equipment and supplies like film and developing, prop rental, or camera equipment at an suggested estimate of $8000 per year. As many students can attest, the $8000.00 figure was not remotely realistic and equipment was often unavailable for them to check out. Most students and their parents were averaging $2000-5000 per session in mandatory supplies depending on the course and program. This was beyond tuition and fees.

In the year 2000, the cost of an undergraduate degree from Brooks Institute of Photography was approximately $127,920. By the year 2009, the average program cost was $184,500.

Through a cross-section comparison of student enrollment agreements to original borrower loans amounts against statistics reported by Brooks Institute, we were able to graph the average tuition costs, equipment fees, living expenses and program total cost per year (see below).

Living expenses cost an estimated $20,000 or more per year in both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Students were routinely encouraged to take out the maximum amount of loans offered in order to cover tuition and housing costs. Federal work-study options were not available to Brooks Institute students. Also, due to the expedited pacing and demanding course work of a semester’s worth of work jammed into a 7 week period, students were both discouraged from working or treated as though they were not taking their careers seriously if they had a part-time job.

Those who graduated usually did so within three years. Yet many students who had previous college experience or undergraduate degrees were led to believe they could graduate in less time due to the transferability of their previously completed general education credits, only to later discover Brooks refused to accept those credits, forcing the borrowers to acquire additional loans to finish the degree.

Brooks Institute was heavily marketed as the premiere school for those interested to pursue a career in film, visual arts, and photojournalism. Brooks had degree programs in commercial, fashion, portrait and product photography, visual journalism, film production, graphic design, in addition to a few graduate programs in fine art photography and short certificate programs in wedding photography and film. After roughly six years of CEC ownership, many highly decorated and qualified instructors no longer taught at the school. Initially, classes were taught by instructors such as PF Bentley, Time Magazine and White House photographer for the Clinton Administration (for the Visual Journalism program), Pulitzer Prize winning Anacleto Rapping (for the Visual Journalism program) and Emmy winner David Schwartz in the Film Program, whose merits recruiters used as selling points to us. Sadly, several of those teachers were let go, often abruptly and mysteriously. Many teachers quit as a matter of principal and integrity knowing students were being conned into taking on enormous amounts of debt for an industry “education” that was unlikely to return earnings necessary to pay off their loans. Other instructors were fed up with the corporate push for profit over students’ educations. During the time CEC owned Brooks Institute, the institution at large saw rapid and often abrupt turn-over rates for Executive Directors, Program Directors, faculty and staff alike.

Before the school closed in 2016, many new classes were promised that never materialized. Assets were hastily liquidated. Campuses moved locations and programs were shut down in the middle of the term with no warning to faculty or students. This frenetic restructuring mid-academic term created a shortage of faculty and taxation of the ones who remained. Those who did survive a little longer were saddled with multiple classes often outside their expertise. The data reports instructors were stressed and often unprepared for classes due to poor administrative management. Additionally, several students reported faculty were unfamiliar with the material they were teaching and showed online tutorials such as instead of teaching during the class period. It was reported that instructors would often have student assistants who were more knowledgeable in the subject matter than they were, be the ones to teach their fellow students. Students who complained found their concerns were dismissed or went unaddressed.

“In 2002 we were required to complete a “career planning exit interview” with Career Services when we graduated, and I provided my completed form to advisor Dave Oelrich, identifying the kind of job I was seeking and income I would settle for. It also reported my current job and income. I accurately reported my retail sales job, making barely above minimum wage, with my hire date of 12/2000, and annual income between $21-24,000. Years later I requested a copy of my complete academic file and the form was included, along with Oelrich’s employment verification form. It was filled with lies, noting my hire date as 4/2002, 4 months before I graduated, and that the retail film sales job I’d acquired by myself while in my 2nd year, and he’d reported as “Lab Manager”. Samy’s Camera didn’t have a lab, so I very well wasn’t the manager. He also wrote I was earning a $27,000 salary. I don’t know which was worse, seeing the lies in black and white, knowing the falsified information was being used to lie to future students about placement rates, or that the paltry sum of $27,000 was an inflated post graduation salary after taking out thousands of dollars in student loans on a useless degree that kept my family bankrupt for almost 2 decades.”

Rebekah Sanchez Norton - 1999 -$143,000

They told me before I started general ed that all credits would be transferable to any college [if I wanted to continue my education]. Lie! Again. The general ed courses were a joke. I had a “math” instructor showing us cartoons he said, ‘it’s easier this way, you guys don’t need this class for your degree’! None of these courses were even accepted by a community college! None! This school lied over and over and over! And we all fell for it!
Chantal Burd - 2003 - $65,000

Although students were promised access to the necessary equipment to fulfill their class requirements, there was never enough gear to accommodate the student body. Students were “encouraged” to take out even more loans in order to purchase professional and expensive equipment so they could meet their class requirements. Many instructors were not sympathetic to the financial burden students were required to take on. Students were often met with criticism and/or accused them of not being committed to success in their chosen program or invested in their future career.

Most students felt the required general education classes, which were necessary for the school to maintain the ability to receive Title IV funds, were an absolute waste of time and money. When CEC took over Brooks, they eliminated the option for students to have their general education classes fulfilled elsewhere before attending Brooks Institute of Photography. After CEC gained ownership of the Brooks, students relayed that faculty and staff would state that as long as they showed-up, they would pass the [general education] class.

Very few business classes relating to the field or real world industry were offered even though Brooks marketed having them in the catalog, and the ones that were available were below par for their cost. For example, one accounting class offered by a non-industry accountant once lectured the students on how to invest lottery winnings for an entire class period.

Horrible experience. First of all, three of the Pulitzer prize winning photographers who were part of the visual journalism program either left, were laid-off or fired before/by the time I attended, thereby nullifying the logic the school used to charge such high fees. Nearly all of the ALS [general education] classes were incredibly sub-par. I was told I had to wait until 18 ALS were completed then I could double-up on core classes per 8 week session – doubling up on core classes lowered overall costs. Then the school changed from six 8 week sessions to a 4 month semester per academic calendar year format. I fought with Shelley Jones (records coordinator), April Reyes (registrar) and Susan Bloom (Visual Journalism program director) via email for weeks about these issues, referring back to lack of clarity in the school catalogue, lack of availability of classes to take (in both core program and ALS because there were not enough instructors) – so if the class wasn’t available you had to attend longer, spend more money, etc. Not only did I contact an attorney, but also complained to the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. I was also very vocal upon [my] graduation exit interview about how terrible the ALS instructors were.

Victoria L. - 2010 - $118,000

How much algebra are you going to learn in 7 weeks? The general education classes were a joke. No business classes [were] offered to help prepare for the photography industry. Remedial math and English classes. The last thing Brooks wanted to do was fail you for the session due to a poor performing grade in a Gen Ed class. I loved my program teachers. They were concerned about our well being in terms of teaching us and caring about us as human beings but even they didn’t want to bite the hand that fed them. They rarely talked bad about gross misrepresentation by the school and never took any responsibility to fix the administration’s wrongdoings.

Ryan Bergamini - 2000 - $73,000

About mid-way through my studies, I started losing faith in my education at Brooks as I had some experience with college before. I started seeking internships on my own with professional photographers to gain more knowledge and real life experience that I felt was lacking at Brooks. A lot of the working professionals I interned under outside of the Brooks community/network would literally laugh about the “study” of photography and advised that I would get more out of an apprenticeship than attending a college. They said I was wasting my time and money. At that point, I had been attending Brooks Institute for about 19 months. I had already accumulated about $68,000 in federal and private student loan debt as recommended [to borrow] by the tuition department at Brooks Institute. I felt very strongly that I was putting in a lot more than I was getting out of the Institution.

Evelyn J. - 2005 - $68,438


The majority of the borrowers who took part of the Brooks Borrowers survey reported they had completed the BFA program, while only a handful of others obtained BS/BS degrees from other programs. A majority of students were told shortly before their expected graduation date that their previously completed transfer credits, which had been reported as transferred into Brooks through admissions, were no longer allowable or accepted by the registrar, and that they would need to enroll in additional classes to complete their degree. Those additional classes cost students, on average, $4000 or more per session.

I went to the Career Services department at the Jefferson campus but didn’t really get any assistance. I remember their job board always had jobs for nanny positions and other menial part-time jobs around Santa Barbara. I was told that the industry was very competitive and I should look for unpaid intern positions online (in my own time). Once my grace period was up I was making $11/hour in an office admin role and had no chance of making the $1500/month payments on my loan so I kept them in forbearance. My main focus at this point was not on photography, but on finding a job (any job) that would pay me enough to afford the loan repayments.

Shelah Wilkins - 2002 - $445,000

The job placement and income statistics that Brooks’ admissions gave prospective and incoming students as a reference stated a 90% or higher placement rate and salaries with an inflated annual range from $50,000.00-$90,000.00 /year post graduation. It has been revealed Brooks counted anyone who was employed, at any type of job at all, as included in those statistics. It didn’t matter if graduates were working out-of-the-industry or at a minimum-wage or job. Brooks even counted someone as “employed” if the students reported working only a freelance gig.

If students requested assistance from Career Services​, they were (sometimes) sent an email showing local job offerings pulled from sources like Craigslist. Brooks Borrowers reported receiving calls a few months after graduation, where Brooks/CEC interrogated students about any possible jobs they may have had so that they could add that to their statistics. This illegal practice later led to shareholder lawsuits as well as investigations by the FCC and SEC. Brooks failed to assist students in finding the high paying careers, or any in-field job, that had been promised to them during recruitment.

During the 2005 BPPVE investigation, they could not find one graduate whose post-graduation pay came close to the $50k+ per year, as the students had been led to believe. When asked if Brooks Borrowers were working in the industry they studied at Brooks, our results show roughly only one quarter of former students working in their field of study.

Before starting school the recruiters told us about how amazing the job placement rates were for graduates of Brooks students. They said that basically just having a Brooks degree on your resume would get you interviewed at almost every job in the photographic industry because they were so well known. They also told us about how the career services department of the school worked so hard and helped every student find a job right after graduation. Everyone got jobs in the industry straight out of school, and they helped you find them too. This was not at all the case. . People were going into ridiculous debt, and finding that they weren’t getting the education that they were sold. The career services department was also horrible. It consisted of one, person who was responsible for helping current students and all alumni. The help consisted of them going onto, finding jobs that had photography related somehow to them, and sending them out to all the alumni. These jobs often paid close to minimum wage or were even unpaid. I received zero help ever from the career services department, and was highly disappointed in how the school treated me after graduation.

Ryan Feeney - 2009 - $79,252

In the three years before I graduated from the Brooks Institute, I and other students were frequently reminded by the faculty and staff there that the “career services department” would be playing a large role in our job placement upon graduation. Nobody ever assisted me in finding relevant work once I had graduated. I did contact the department several times looking for job placement assistance. The recruiters assured me that the school had a job placement program that would land me a $50,000+ job in photography right when I graduated from their program. The school discouraged students from working while attending school, therefore causing me and many others to take out the maximum amount allowed to be able to live and attend school.

Sage Latham - 2003 - $113,787

Job placement was horrendous. I was expecting so much help and expecting all of these amazing job opportunities (I had a great portfolio; printed and online) I was educated and expecting to start paying my loans back! I WAS SOOO WRONG. Katie Huber was the person that helped with my job placement. I’m not even sure you could call it job placement. How it worked when I graduated was you signed up to be on an email list and Katie would look for jobs for us and send us links to them to apply. These jobs were definitely something to laugh at; Seasonal photographer jobs for Santa in the mall, or the Easter bunny. I ended up getting a job at Urban Outfitters because Brooks lied. My loans eventually fell into collection and stayed there.
Camryn Trelly - 2003 - $190,000

Former Students When Asked, “Did you feel your education at Brooks was worthy of the debt you owe?”

Before my start date I was told that Brooks had relationships with companies all over the world that only hired “Brooks Grads”. I visited the Career Services Department in my second and third year looking at the jobs offered. The jobs listed were printed out from internet job search engines, the same anyone could find and apply for. The counselors offered nothing in the way of advice or special placement. When I asked about placement I was told that I should consider going to work for myself. A few months after I finished school, someone from Career Services called me to follow up regarding my work status. I was still working full time at the camera store I started at when I began school. The person on the phone was happy to hear that I was employed in the field, to which I replied “but I am working in sales, not photography.” I began that job at the same time that I started school to supplement my income. That job had nothing to do with my education, only the fact that I had worked at a camera store previously.

Jared Ivy - 2001 - $243,000

Brooks offered no assistance with job placement. Their Career Services office was tiny, and had one director who was rarely present, and two administrators that seemed to know nothing of the office’s real purpose as they always directed me to ask career questions to my instructors.

Avram Halperin - 2003 - $332,068


The federal default rate is based on tracking a student for the first three years after they have left school. Due to following students’ repayments for such a limited time, these figures are flawed. In addition, servicers typically give a 6 month grace period, eagerly offering to put students into forbearance for up to 18 months post graduation. Most lenders neglect to inform borrowers compound interest would be accruing during this timeframe. Most borrowers tried to pay as much as they could, often working multiple jobs, while navigating medical, family, and or personal emergencies. Yet with monthly payments compounded, paying them off becomes an unrealistic goal to obtain, resulting in default. Once you are in default, especially for private loans, interest rates jump to 18%-29%. If federal loans stay in default for too long wages become garnished and any tax refunds are withheld. Then loans are sold to private collectors who continually harass both the borrowers, cosigners, and their employers, friends or acquaintances.

I lived in my car for 5 years while having 3 jobs and still couldn’t afford a place to live. I spent about a year of having random blackouts because I was working 20 hours or more a day with no breaks, just to get by. I’ve never thought about anything but loans and having to make money since finishing school. I’ll probably never have a relationship or kids, and I don’t even know if I would want that because I haven’t had a chance to even think like a normal person. I am ignored by old friends and family because I work so much I don’t get to be part of their lives. I kept working until I was so sick that my doctor thought I had a brain tumor and told me I had to quit at least one of my 3 jobs, if not all of them, or I would keep getting sicker. Now I am going bankrupt, am sick, and alone.

AP. - 2003 - $77,000


While there are instances of students achieving success after graduating from Brooks, many find it overshadowed by unending debt, restrictions on personal and financial growth, and limited opportunities. The majority of Brooks Borrowers state they find themselves struggling to balance loan payments, equal to or greater than an average mortgage payment. Many have experienced extreme depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. More than one reported they did not follow through on terminating their life out of fear their cosigner would be held responsible for their student loan debt. Tragically, there are 2 reports of former Brooks students who died by suicide because of the personal and financial destruction caused by their student loan debt. All borrowers in our group have expressed a mien of desperation when discussing attempts to resolve their debt.

Desperately, many Brooks Borrowers took whatever job they could or stayed in jobs they had prior to school. Some tried to pursue additional degrees only to find their credits would not transfer, meaning they had to repeat general education classes they took at Brooks Institute. In other cases they were denied federal funding because they borrowed the maximum financial aid allowance per person in order to attend Brooks Institute. Some were denied funding due to defaulting on their loans. If they were successful in being accepted to a different school and secured loan funding, it meant adding to their already absurd debt. A few were almost denied the opportunity to enlist in the military due to extensive debt to income ratio and/or because of defaulting on their loans. In other instances, when Brooks Borrowers tried to take hold and to establish their lives, to purchase a home, car, or obtain credit cards, they were met with denial or steep interest rates.

My education at Brooks has ruined my life. I feel that I can’t get married, have children, a house, a car, or anything because I have too much student loan debt. I was working on completing the MFA in the photography program at Brooks and a few sessions before graduation the school was required to publish how much an MFA graduate was going to make… I saw the figure and it was 40k ish. Reality hit in and I’ve been in a depression ever since. It ruined my life.

Jason Cory Clay - 2001 - $587,957

My life has been a mixture of anxiety, depression, near suicide, with some minor success and resilience. I still have not been able to pay my rent completely in the last 9 years and because of the generosity of my best friend (who has never stopped believing in me) I have been able to stay in Los Angeles. My degree is absolutely worthless, I have little to show from my time at Brooks and it has been a very dark time overall and I regret attending Brooks.

Kimberly Kurzinger - 2007 - $172,884

For those paying thousands a month on interest alone, savings is not an option. Most will be paying well into their 70s and have no retirement savings to look forward to. Many have put off marriage or having children due to not wanting to burden any more loved ones with their lifelong debt. Many are struggling with their current relationships with people close to them due to the impact the loans have had on loved ones. A handful of Brooks Borrowers that did marry found their debt created an unresolveable burden and stress on their partner.

My credit is ruined. I can’t buy a house, a car, etc. It is very difficult to talk about this, how in the world do I owe almost half a million dollars for going to school? This is unbelievable.
Natalia Del Carmen Gonzalez - 2006 - $484,000

When my payments first became due after the graduation, between the two companies I was billed $2500 a month. I was making about $1200 a month at Old Navy. Sallie Mae refused to work with me on the payments on my loan. They told me that they could stretch out the payment plan from 15 to 25 years, but with the interest at 17% it only reduced my payments by about $100 a month. They wanted about $1700 a month just on their own. I used every deferment and forbearance I could. I even started taking 2 classes online a semester from a community college near where I lived so I could use the in-school deferment. I exhausted all of my options and I have been in default since about 2007. I started to make payments on the defaulted Wachovia loans only to find out that $11K of the $14K in payments I made to the collection agency went straight to their fees and not at all to my loans. I have never been able to purchase a vehicle, thankfully my parents were able to help me there. I have had to pay exorbitant down payments to rent apartments, and been turned down for many. Owning a home will never happen for me. I have not had children, because I can barely take care of myself financially. Currently I live with my parents, at age 42. I was able to work through a rehabilitation plan on my private loans and get them out of default and am now on IBR, but I owe $60K and do not believe I will ever get them paid off.

Darcy Gray - 2001 - $446,644

I’ve been treated for major depression and clinical anxiety for the past decade, with many of my struggles rooted in the immense stress of student loans and career difficulties post-graduation. Sinking from the weight of staggering debt, the pain and suffering caused by the financial burden has been compounded by the difficulty of affording adequate treatment. This was especially significant during the years where I couldn’t get affordable healthcare as a freelancer. Employment and the ability to pay off loans has not been achievable like we were made to believe. My enrollment recruiter’s presentation caused me to anticipate a highly-respected and lucrative career after school – that was a key reason why I chose to attend Brooks. Even now, with 8 years of career experience post-graduation, I still feel that I earn much less than I had originally been made to expect. I currently live back in my mom’s basement, working full-time as a freelance graphic designer/independent contractor. Buying a house or having children seems impossible.
Erin Rea Westlake - 2004 - $99,995


I have not had 1 job within the industry that I studied for and ruined my life in debt for. I have suffered long term depression as a result of going to Brooks. My relationship with my sister is non-existent (most likely irrevocably damaged) because of the Sallie Mae Loans she co-signed for, that I have not been able to pay. I have been homeless because of these loans. I have stayed in a rundown mold infested apartment because I have no money to find a new place to live. I have no health or dental insurance yet have a chronic illness which causes me pain everyday. I was once a confident, self-actualized woman, not afraid to take risks or seek new experiences, yet the crippling loan debt that I was lied to by Brooks Institute, to take on, has made me doubt every decision I attempt to make.
Karie Henderson - 2006 - $172,309

Two thirds of Brooks Borrowers were asked to have a cosigner on their loans. In the years before the housing foreclosure crisis, borrowers were typically approved automatically for the maximum amounts for both federal and private loans, even if students or their cosigners [mostly parents] did not have qualifying credit or assets. Once a cosigner has signed a loan, it is next to impossible to have them removed. Even in the instances of borrowers making consistent on-time payments for years have been refused to have their cosigners released. Many borrowers who feel they were misled by the school struggle to stay in repayment to keep their cosigners protected. Those who have defaulted watch as their parents are denied credit, have their social security denied, or in general have their lives turned upside down as a result of these loans.

Those who took out parent-plus loans also struggle to make payments out of their retirement fixed income. Many have delayed retirement or no longer see it as an option. Brooks Borrowers were aggressively pressured by CEC administrative staff to get ‘whoever you can’ to cosign. This often meant getting siblings, relatives, including spouses to cosign.

There are several Brooks Borrowers who are married that were asked to cosign for their spouse’s loan(s). Cosigners are the biggest and most tragic stressor in dealing with these loans, often leaving the borrower riddled with guilt and shame. A handful of borrowers have been disowned by their parents, family and/or friends when they could no longer meet the bank’s (high interest) payment demands. It is policy for some lenders that the death of either the borrower or cosigner simply makes the entire loan balance due to whoever is still living and if it is not paid in full, then the loan goes into default.

Going to Brooks was the biggest mistake of my life. I wish everyday that I could go back and do it all over again. I feel absolutely terrible that my mom and my sister cosigned for these loans I cannot possibly pay back right now. After I graduated, I worked for Lifetouch for a little while, doing portraits. I only made about $750 a month, not even enough for a full loan payment. After 5 months of that, I started work at CarMax selling used cars. I worked there for about 6 years until my husband hurt his back on the job, and I had to stay home with him and my two young children. We have gone through bankruptcy. Right now, we are on the CalWorks program and only bring in $810 a month. I am going back to school to teach high school history. The degree that I have is not accredited in a way that will allow me to teach in California. I don’t get financial aid because I “already have a degree”. I want to be in a position to spread the word to all high school kids not to do what I did. I want to start a program that shows young kids the real financial impact that taking out loans has, and the emotional impact.
Amanda J. Ellington - 2005 - $100,000

These loans, especially my parent-plus loans, have caused a great deal of stress on my relationship between me and my parents. My father hasn’t talked to me in over 2 years because of my loans. My mother is trying to keep a relationship with me and my kids, while being a good wife to my dad, which is killing her. My full time job, making just shy of $40k a year, is $20k UNDER what I was promised by the school. Any goals or aspirations of providing for my family, creating a nest egg, maybe even taking my family on vacation, is null and void. While I enjoy my photography job I have now, this job is an entry level position. Not for someone with a college degree. If i was a high school graduate with no college education and worked my way to get to the salary I have now, I would be thrilled, but I have (in theory now) a Bachelor’s degree and this is all I am making. I would love to get that high paying job I was promised out of school, and maybe someday I will get there, but at this point in time, that reality seems bleak.

Alex Wong - 2001 - $139,172

My daughter lost her dad at age 14, the summer going into her freshman year of high school. She heard of Brooks in a photo class at her high school. I work retail and have never made a lot of money, but I was raising my girls with life insurance policy left from their dad. All I ever wanted was to take away the girls’ pain from losing their father at an early age, and her desire was to go to Brooks. Her financial advisor always told me the school came highly recommended and that when she graduated they would help her get a job, and she would have a fantastic career! I asked ALL THE TIME how I could pay for this schooling making the money I made. He kept telling me not to worry, that Bethany would be making so much money that she would be able to pay-off the student loans. I made payments as we went, but soon they got too expensive. I was never educated about student loans or repayment options. I was told scholarships weren’t available to her because it was a private school. I believed everything they said, and I feel like a fool for doing that. My daughter can’t even discuss this because it is so overwhelming to her. I’m in debt $258,496.25. I can’t get a loan for anything and I’m going to be 60 years old this year. Soon, I’ll have to retire, and won’t be able to make the payments I do.
Laura C. - Cosigner - $258,496

My son was never a good traditional student. Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age with a low GPA, and attempts at local colleges had all failed. At the time Brooks Institute of Photography had the reputation of being the premier photography school in the country, and my son expressed an interest. It was a hard no from me because of the expense and my son contacted the school himself, asked me several times to have a conversation with the admissions counselor, Mike Smith, and I declined. When I finally agreed to talk to him, Mr. Smith was very convincing, telling me all the things a parent would want to hear about the great future they could help my son create. He said Brooks understood and catered to creative students and assured me the school was structured to help these types of students succeed. My son was being told there was a way for him to succeed, but I would have to take out a parent plus loan. He [Smith] made it seem that I was the only thing standing in my son’s way.

Mr. Smith convinced me that with year round sessions my son would complete his degree in three years and that a parent plus loan was attainable because it was an unsecured loan and not based on my income. Mr. Smith showed us placement rates of 92/89% for their graduates and a list of employers where they worked. We walked away believing my son would have no trouble getting a high paying job and could easily afford the student loans. It has been a financial noose around my neck, and for my son as well. While I carry the biggest loan, he has two other loans….The payment on the parent plus loan has caused serious hardship. At the time of my son’s withdrawal from Brooks his parent plus loan was at $90K. I worked very hard to pay it down to $63K. I currently owe $127K. The system is structured so it is very difficult to maintain that headway. I have since retired and recently qualified for income driven repayment plan. At this point, and I’m not being dramatic here, our only relief from this will be when I die.

Mary C Mehan - Cosigner - $157,966

I do not have a relationship with my brother because he was unknowingly put on as a 3rd co-signer by my father for my final two semesters.
Kyle Dedeian - 2003 - $255,686


The Brooks Borrowers, who did not forgo having children because of their debt, now see the negative financial impact carry-over into their children’s future as well. Due to the significant debt, Borrowers are forced to live in areas lacking access to decent school districts, are bereft of funds to send their children to enrichment programs and lack opportunities to financially prepare or save for their children’s future education. Most of the Brooks borrowers will be making sizable payments on their loans well into retirement age. It is impossible to save for emergencies or for their children’s needs with little extra money available after loan payments. The children of our group members have watched their parents work long hours, many with multiple jobs, attempting to balance basic living expenses and the massive monthly payments of their student loans. It is impossible for the children’s lives not to be forever affected by their parents physical and emotional absence, or altered by the shame and guilt this financial burden has clouded over their parents. Because of the massive predatory student loan burden imposed on these families, these children of Borrowers will have their education options limited to them as well


The loans that Brooks Borrowers have taken have created irreparable damage that will be felt for generations. These are victims of deceitful marketing in the name of shareholder profits. They deserve reprieve from the government responsible for oversight and regulation, yet failed to do so.

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