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I-Team: Family Says College Duped Them Out Of $40,000

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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BOSTON (CBS) – Throughout high school, Colin Blessing of Quincy dreamed of a career in commercial art. Before graduation, he searched for just the right program to help him develop the skills he would need to live his dream. “I strictly just wanted to do art,” he said. That’s why he was thrilled when he went to visit the Butera School of Art in the heart of the Back Bay. “They said they’re just an art-based program and I was very excited,” he said.

But, just weeks before starting classes in September 2010, Colin found out the school and its building at 111 Beacon Street, a highly desirable piece of real estate, was sold to nearby Fisher College. Colin and his mother were initially concerned, but were reassured by the administrators at Fisher. “They were telling us what a positive move it was to move the Butera program in with Fisher,” Susan Butts explained. Both Susan and Colin said they were told that Fisher planned to advance the Butera program.

But that never happened. Fisher College did try to change the non-credit Butera program into a credit-earning certificate course, but when that fell through, the school decided to phase it out completely. Current students would be allowed to finish the three-year program, but after that, Butera was done.

Here’s the problem: Emails obtained by the I-Team reveal the decision to phase out the program was made in October 2010, but students were not notified until January, after checks for the spring semester had already been cashed.

Colin and his mother complained to the state and the Department of Higher Education agreed students were not notified in a timely manner. In a letter to Fisher College, an attorney for the Department of Higher Education wrote: An institution’s long term commitment to a program is undoubtedly a factor that would influence a students’ enrollment decision.

Colin and his mother are upset because they were not given the opportunity to pull out and go to another school.

Fisher College refused to talk to the I-Team on camera, but did provide a statement, saying in part: Other students completed the program and are now employed in their chosen fields.

With an entire year of tuition already paid, Colin also considered completing the program and enrolled for a second year. “That’s when the teacher got in the accident,” Susan explained.

As it turns out, the Butera commercial art program had just one full-time teacher and when he was out for weeks, the school did not hire a full-time replacement. Colin explained that the instructor tried to reach the students online. “Sometimes he would Skype the whole classroom on someone’s laptop and basically tell us an assignment. Sometimes he wouldn’t Skype at all,” he said.

The program did have a part-time instructor a couple of days a week and the school insists there was always someone available, but according to Colin students were really on their own. “I didn’t have the luxury of asking the teacher like any questions [or] getting any help,” he said.

Not willing to risk any more tuition, Colin withdrew from the program in 2011, feeling he had been duped. “Me and my mom were used to acquire a building, basically,” he said.

Fisher College flatly denies the claim that this was strictly a real estate move. The Attorney General’s office negotiated a $5,000 settlement offer, but Colin and his mother refused, saying they owe $40,000. They are now looking for an attorney to take their case.

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