Thursday, June 3, 2010

Collins College and the damage its done

If I were to tell you that college was a waste of time, a complete scam, a fool’s errand, nothing but an enigmatic dream, then I’d be the world’s most ignorant person. College, especially nowadays, is a very important albeit necessary step in securing one’s future. Unfortunately, that future will never come to fruition if you attend a place by the name of Collins College.

Enter Tempe, Arizona; a bustling city on the fringe of Phoenix, known for its excruciating heat and, unbeknownst to many, home of a clandestine scam. Bear with me; talking about a personal experience is often a completely prejudiced matter, and I’ll do my best to be clear. My feelings toward Collins, while hostile and full of disgust aren’t a jumbled, intelligible mess; it’s fact. The goal of this article is to educate the people who would listen, and to explain that someone who wanted to succeed wasn’t allowed to and was subdued by a power bent on greed and complete self-serving.

A little on my story; I was attracted to Collins College by a few factors I thought I needed. One was the shift in landscape by moving from New York to Arizona. The other, the school offered an accelerated program in Game Design and Production. Sure, laugh, but the gaming industry is a wealthy place and does more than its fair share of making people happy all over the world. Games have been a part of my life for a very long time, and being as social as I am, I love the way they bring people together. No matter what you feel, everybody loves games and I felt it was my career path to play my hand in the future of the industry. Collins, according to the National Administration officer I spoke to, was the place to receive the necessary training to become successful in that specific field. Oh, if only it were true.

Upon entering Collins, I thought all was well. I received my books, schedule, student ID, and went through an orientation that all seemed pretty standard and professional. But might I remind you that this program was accelerated, meaning I’d be getting 4 years of education in about 2-2.5 years. There’d be very short breaks and superfluous amounts of homework during my stay, and that’s what I wanted; to be immersed in my work to bring out the real potential I knew I had. After about 6 months time, I knew something was wrong.

I’m a pretty good student. School was important business for me, and it always has been. So it was no surprise to me that the beginning of my courses were pretty simple. I soon realized though, that my classmates would not participate in a serious manner. Sure, this had no bearing on me as I befriended the few who actually cared, but as class after class flew by, these kids were still managing to stay in the program and I wondered how. Now, the program explicitly states that a certain GPA must be maintained in order to remain in class, which I believe had to be a 2.5. The vast majority of them would plagiarize, play games, watch movies, or just flat not show up for class every day. To make matters even more apparent, the administration would often post everyone’s scores to give an at a glance view of how our class was doing. This made it painfully obvious who was out and out failing, which was just about everyone. How then did these students manage to continuously progress when they were literally not showing up for class?

It’s probably my weakest argument here, but the student body and how they present and overly participate in work does have an effect on you. It really started to get to me when a special needs student was placed in my class. The student was quite obviously suffering from some form of mental disability and was offered no assistance, no counselor, nothing to help him whatsoever. Not only is that wrong and perhaps illegal, but this put constraints on our learning progress as the teachers were forced to slow the curriculum having no idea how to cope with this kind of student. I remember getting ready to present my final project for my Illustration class and the kid still didn’t even know how to use the program, holding up presentations with incessant and often random questions. There were even times after class when the professors would state that they didn’t know what he was doing there. Of course, it wasn’t his fault and it got me thinking about how he was even placed in the same program.

While troubling, inefficient and mentally handicapped students were the least of my worries. As time progressed I began to notice that we weren’t utilizing our textbooks or anything that was labeled as mandatory by administration. I’m sure it’s no secret that textbooks are an exorbitant amount of money either. The trouble was, our classes were accelerated and lasted weeks instead of months, putting a timestamp on textbook/supply usage. That wouldn’t have been any trouble if we actually learned relevant material. Instead, we often disregarded our textbooks and/or used them for a few small assignments only to then discard them forever. Basically, Collins was forcing us to purchase expensive textbooks and other “mandatory” supplies that we’d never use. Sound perplexing? This is only the beginning.

After noticing the neglect for textbooks, I began digging a little deeper into the professors’ backgrounds by asking them questions and holding friendly conversation. Most, if not all of Collins staff was very friendly and pleasant to be around, but the ones assigned to my classes clearly didn’t know the curriculum, if there even was one. For instance, one of my design classes contained a teacher who was reading out of a booklet in order to understand what he was showing us. During one of his assigned projects, a student ripped a trailer straight from Hellgate: London and presented it as his piece. The teacher knew he didn’t do it, but gave him a passing grade anyway. Upon asking about his gaming background the professor announced astoundingly that he “doesn’t really play games.” He had a degree in photography and was showing off some of his pieces at art shows near the college. The man didn’t even know what the Playstation 3 was.

Sickeningly, one of the classes that showed us how to construct the “Holy Grail” of game design, the game design document, was taught by a man who had no interest in actual teaching. Instead, he’d kick back and play poker and Unreal Tournament on his computer while you read his instructions. The instructions had obviously been recycled over the course of many different classes, allowing our instructor to just point to the paper and say that “the answer’s in there.” At one point, my colleagues silently garnered my attention and pointed me to our instructor’s computer screen where, I couldn’t believe, pornography resided. This man didn’t have a shred of qualification to teach us anything, and that goes double for his morality. After one class, I noticed the instructor was in a hurry to go somewhere and he was approached by an inquisitive student. Not only was he dismissive, he told the student he was off the clock and could assist him next class. So because this guy gets paid hourly he couldn’t take the time to give one of his own students answers? Maybe it’s because Collins rounded up whomever they could pull off the street since they already had the material on a piece of paper that just had to be read again and again. That’ll give students the experience and education they need to make it in the industry for sure.

By the time I realized something could be very, very wrong, I started asking around about the school itself. To my dismay, it wasn’t uncommon to find “No Al Collin’s students” plastered to applications or local, relevant job sites. At GDC or the Game Developer’s Conference, a friend of mine knew exactly what I was talking about when I told him about the Collins disclaimer. Even crazier, earlier in my time at the school I found a job at a nearby Auntie Anne’s who employed some graduates of Collins. One employee, who I didn’t believe, kept going on about how the school was utter trash. Turns out, he applied to several companies who all turned him down because of the school name. He didn’t quit though, and tried to transfer his credits to a nearby reputable college by the name of ASU or Arizona State University. Appallingly, his credits could not and would not be transferred due to discrepancies. Everything he did in his two years there was for a piece of paper that was worth absolutely nothing to anybody.

At the tail end of my time at Collins, we finally began the programming process – the core of crafting games. I figured that maybe now the curriculum would pick up after we were given a program called Torque. It was a pretty old engine, but I thought we’d learn on something experienced and then move onto a more relevant and contemporary engine. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While other more notable schools were using Unreal technology and actually advancing, my classmates and I were given an engine the instructor didn’t even fully understand. That’s right, the instructor wasn’t fully schooled on the Torque engine. I remember asking him how to rotate a stairwell in a certain way, and he quizzically stated, “Hmm, I guess I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Clearly, this instructor was unable to deliver.

After that I couldn’t take anymore. But oddly, my logic teacher pulled me aside and began decrypting all of this jargon. He explained to me that the school was a money-pit, and how very soon the instructors were going to walk off campus. It’s a lot to take in and I had a hard time understanding all of it, but sure enough a couple classes later we had practically quadrupled in size. Instructors had suddenly quit for reasons I still am not too clear about, but what I do understand is that classes were consolidated and combined, making mine a behemoth amongst its predecessor. The class size was so unwieldy that it took several full class days to even begin some of the material. Once this happened, I confronted my logic instructor to which he made clear that this whole operation was a sham. He even told me that he was contesting a payment issue with the school and that he wouldn’t be in for class the next day because of it. Well, that’s exactly what happened and no one came in for the entire day to replace him.

Before I left Collins I sent e-mails out to teachers I demanded explanations from. I had sit-downs with several, which to me speaks volumes, and I even gathered testimonies from students who dropped out. By the way, drop-outs in Collins are accelerated (unlike the promised curriculum) tenfold. On the first day of class I had, what seemed to be close to 100 students in my class, not only breaking the promise of small class sizes, but also showing me how quickly the numbers dissipate. Anyway, I took the testimonies of several people who were willing to give me their information, including my logic professor, and then I started the drop-out process. During the exit interviews I spoke with a financial officer, who googled some of the stories I told her I read about online (yes, this didn’t just happen to me). She just shook her head and I moved on to speak with one of the heads of security. He looked up my grades, was amazed, and continued to nod and smile when I told him about all the corruption. “Yup! That sounds just like so-and-so.” You have to understand how agonizing it is to be sitting right there, telling someone who holds power that your future is crushed because of the problems and his reaction is to agree completely. There really wasn’t anything I could do.

I was lied to, stolen from, and cheated for money I didn’t have. My mother was able to co-sign for me to go to Collins and still had to pay while I was there. Even with me sending her the spare money I had, it was an incredibly rough time. Now we’re stuck with an astronomical bill and I’m forced to work now that I can’t get another co-signer to attend a real college. I’ll be 25 before I even have the opportunity to go to school again. Justice needs to be served here and even if it isn’t for me, potential students must be warned about this place. Please don’t go.

Collins College is a travesty. It’s a college that can only imitate the successful and legitimate educational centers that help millions find real careers. Basically, if you’re going to this “school” you’ve just squandered $60,000 easy and set yourself back far more than that. What these people have done is beyond fraudulent, it’s downright corrupt and no one should have to suffer through their crooked path to the American Dream.


  1. I agree with you there. I attended for a few months in 2007 before figuring out what was happening and transferred to the University of Advancing Technology. (They took credits from a junior college and the Art Institute Online so I could finish quickly.) One drawback to UAT is the rising tuition costs, which I don't feel are actually justified, but thankfully I graduated in the spring of this year, so...
    But yes, no credits transferred from Collins, and I've read many bad accounts, some on It is shameful what some so-called "schools" are up to out there. Even worse, while Al Collins was alive, the reputation was solid. I guess it goes to show that once non-family members move in like vultures, things can go down the tube at warp speed.

  2. Collins graduate here, with a Bachelor's degree... why did you quit and give up? Since you already footed the bill, you could have at least gotten the diploma.

    I don't feel the school was as big of a rip off as you say... my instructors followed the criteria and used the books. I had good instructors and bad ones, but mostly good. I also stayed till the end, and finished what I started.

    1. Finished what you started and for what? The degree from Collin's was worthless and, as I stated in the story, the credits I earned were equal in value - zero. Those people I spoke about in the article were laughed out of interviews because the education Collin's gave them was pathetic.

      Hiring "professors" who have no experience in the industry itself when it explicitly states that industry professionals would be teaching is inexcusable. Actually, I really should update this story because I went after Collin's for pulling this kind of tactic and you know what they did? They sent me a check for $15,000 as a form of settlement.

      Since I cut out early, I wasn't liable for the total bill which was the main reason I quit while I was ahead. Believe me, I would have finished if I knew I'd have gotten something worthwhile out of getting my degree from this particular school. However, there was too much evidence supporting all of the corruption. I had a female professor who told me about everything, but refused to go on record to help my case for fear of losing her job. I really wish I was making all of this up.

      If you've gone to a real college instead of this for-profit organization, you'd see the difference.

  3. I too went to Collins but I graduated in 2009. I was forced to graduate though.

    It would've been better had I quit because a few years later I was awarded a free ride at a local community college via Pell Grant.... only for it to be taken away because I already had a degree.