A photo of Savannah College of Art and Design's Atlanta campus.

Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus.
GAPhoto credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

A damning new report published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has caused many to do a double take on the “highly acclaimed” Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Over the years, SCAD has built a reputation for itself as being one of the nation’s leading private art institutions. But does it truly live up to its name of being a highly esteemed university, or is it all just a marketing ploy?

According to Alan Judd of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SCAD sells a dream, and the person who benefits most from it is SCAD’s own founder and president, Paula Wallace.

Suspicions were first aroused in 2014, when tax filings showed that Wallace had earned a whopping $9.6 million that year, making her America’s highest paid college leader. Between 2011 and 2015, SCAD paid her a total of $19.9 million in salary and other forms of compensation. Compare that to Harvard, which paid its president less than a third as much during the same time period.

David LaChapelle, a renowned photographer and film director who was invited to speak at a SCAD event, described Wallace as “greedy” and “self-serving.” Prior to being invited as a guest speaker, LaChapelle said he’d never heard of the college before. It wasn’t until he Googled SCAD that he came across various articles about Wallace’s salary, the enormous cost of tuition, and how the school frequently invites celebrity guests for what appear to be promotional purposes.

“She is an incredibly savvy businesswoman who’s incredibly greedy and self-serving,” LaChapelle told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “For someone to profit off these kids’ dreams, that’s really sad.”

Jenna Schreck, who graduated from SCAD in 2012 with a degree in photography, says she bought into the idea of attending a distinguished art school. However, it wasn’t until later did she realize it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“We all had this understanding that if I’m going to this top-notch school, surely I’m going to be top-notch in my industry,” said Schreck. “Surely, I would take off a little quicker than anybody else. As soon as I got out here, I realized that wasn’t true.”

But for as prestigious as it appears to be on the outside, getting accepted into the school is actually pretty easily. In 2014, bond credit rating firm Moody’s reported that SCAD accepted nearly 94% of all applicants. At most Ivy Leagues schools, the acceptance rate is closer to 20 to 25 percent.

“We’re getting anyone and everyone with a pulse and a bank account,” said Pete Sakievich, a former art professor at SCAD’s Hong Kong campus.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to Wallace for an interview, but those requests were denied. The newspaper also sent the college a list of written questions, which have gone unanswered.