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Edmonton Digital Arts College shutting down permanently

WATCH ABOVE: The Edmonton Digital Arts College is shutting down permanently after falling into financial trouble. Sarah Kraus reports.

A private post-secondary school in Edmonton is closing down — but not just for the summer. The Edmonton Digital Arts College fell into financial troubles and ran out of money to pay staff salaries in June, according to the school’s executive director.

The school typically had about 50 students enrolled in one of four accredited diploma courses — digital illustration, 3D animation, digital media production and video game design.

Jared Collier started taking video game design at the school in September. He’s interested in virtual reality technology and enjoyed his classes so much he volunteered at open houses to encourage others to enroll.

“I really liked what was going on, I really liked what was happening,” the 24-year-old said.

“Then suddenly having this ripped out from under me? It was a shock. I felt like I was just let down.”

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Collier’s 10-month program was nearly finished in June when he was told classes were put “on pause” because the school was struggling financially.

“I immediately sat down with the team and told them what was going on and said, ‘Listen, I don’t feel ethical about continuing classes,'” executive director Owen Brierley said.

He said he couldn’t expect his ten staff members to work for free.

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Brierley had been trying to sell the school for about the last 18 months.

“We were in the midst of negotiating a potential buyer to take on the school. I just have been running the school for a decade and my personal capacity to carry the school was becoming limited,” he said.

But that buyer decided to bow out last week. Brierley said that left him no choice but to call it quits.

“For me personally, it’s hard. It sucks. It really sucks,” he said, as tears ran down his cheeks.

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When asked about what caused the financial difficulties, Brierley said there was no single thing that tipped the scales.

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“I wish I knew,” he said. “I know the finances are the finances. We do the best we can to manage the finances.”

He added enrollment was down about 10 per cent, which worked out to nearly $100,000 in lost tuition.

“We operate based solely on the number of students that we get in and the tuitions that we’re able to collect. If we can’t make ends meet with that, then we’re struggling.”

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Students that started their program in September will still graduate, Brierley said, though they will have to work through their final projects independently.

“Right now, with no one being in the school, there’s not much that can be done. There’s nobody to look over our shoulder and say, ‘You could do this or do that,’ or ask for help,” Collier said.

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Any students that started classes in April will either have to transfer to another school or apply for a refund.

“Certainly we’re not going to leave them to fend for themselves. We’re going to work with them every step of the way to make sure they get what they need,” Brierley said.

“As much as I wish I had a crystal ball and could look into the future and see where it was going, we didn’t ever expect it to go in this direction and it did.”

He hopes other colleges will take up some of the specialty programs the school offered to fill the void left behind by its closure.