I am a former student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography (HIP). There have already been four other reports filed on this site against HIP and its corrupt president, but there's so much more that needs to be said about this overpriced, overhyped, corrupt, pathetic excuse for a school.
Let's start with its president and (now) former CEO, George J. Rosa III.
It was revealed in 2010 that George had for several years been keeping two sets of books in order to embezzle $2.2 million from a bank loan to the school for his personal use. He also stole from his employees' payroll and ripped off B&H Foto & Electronics in Boston to the tune of $160,000, and many local small businesses, including printers, caterers, banks, electricians and others, many of whom had worked with HIP for years, by never paying for their services. Many of these businesses refuse to work with the school at all anymore because George still owes them money.
According to People's United Bank (PUB), the bank whose school loan George embezzled, one set of his books at HIP showed "an exorbitant amount of money being paid to a variety of individuals...including, but not limited to, Rosa, Rosa's children, Rosa's employees, KeyBank (for Rosa's boat payment), Renaissance Builders, Mercedes Benz, Merrill Lynch, Citizens Bank, Deerfield Academy, Eye on the Dream LLC, a variety of attorneys and other individuals who apparently loaned Rosa money." George also apparently had a massive gambling habit he was feeding.
George's embezzlement from the school began in 2007, right before my year as a student began, and continued on through early 2009. He was then forced to cede control of HIP to his main creditor, Peoples United Bank (PUB) of Springfield. The bank sold the school to Premier Education Group (PEG) to recoup some of the money George stole from them. PEG removed George as CEO, but has kept him on as school president for some reason, at an annual salary of $120,000 for some reason, despite the fact that is currently facing fraud charges, both for the embezzlement itself and for "severely misrepresenting the financial circumstances and viability of HIP."
Here's a link to the whole story of the massive fraud and other crimes that George J. Rosa III -- still somehow president of the Hallmark Intistute of Photography -- committed.
So, George Rosa is a con artist, a liar, a thief, a criminal, and an all-around sleazebag. I got that out of the way. Now for Hallmark itself.
Since I graduated in 2008, tuition at the school has soared, enrollment has bottomed out, and many teachers have been laid off or fired, some for speaking up against George and his corruption. (Five were laid off before the 2010-11 school year alone.) When I was a student at HIP, tuition was already a staggering $55,000, for a ten-month program, and there were over two hundred students in my class. In the current class, tuition has gone up to $70,000, and there are only about eighty students. At this rate the school will not even be around in a few years.
The insanely high tuition also does not include housing costs, food, expensive photography equipment needed for school, props needed for assignments, or any means of obtaining models for photo shoots, all of which students had to pay for or find a way to do themselves throughout the year. For all that money, students also do not receive any job placement or assistance after graduation, or any support for finding a photography job whatsoever. When I attended HIP, the school was, and continues to be, understaffed, and after school hours, there were always very long lines to see most instructors.
Despite HIPs greatly exaggerated claims of a high percentage of its graduates going on to work in photography, only a small fraction in the last few years actually has. For the most part, only rich graduates who had someone else paying for their tuition could afford to start their own businesses or have had any real success in photography. The vast majority of the rest of us have been left working at any job we could find just to pay back the massive loans we were forced to take out in order to attend HIP in the first place. All that is obtained for the students hard work at the end of the year is a "Certificate of Completion," which as many graduates have discovered -- is completely useless in obtaining employment of any kind.
They try their best to make you think that HIP is a "prestigious" school, the "Harvard of photography schools," and that it is highly respected in the industry. A former instructor at HIP, and one of my instructors during my attendance there, David Langley, is a world-renowned commercial photographer with forty years of experience working in the world of professional photography. He has publicly stated after being fired by George for asking for a raise -- that in all the decades he worked in photography, in all the places he worked, and with all the hundreds of professional photographers he worked with, no one had ever even heard of the "Hallmark Institute of Photography," and most assumed that it was a part of the greeting card company, on whose famous name the school capitalizes.
Mr. Langley has also publicly stated a view voiced by many others with experience in professional photography that very little of what HIP teaches is of any use whatsoever in finding and obtaining photography work after graduation. Only the very basics of lighting are taught in the portrait studio, with the same few patterns that have not been used by most professional photography studios since the 1990s. There were only two, very brief classes taught on posing models, too, which, after lighting, is absolutely the most important skill a portrait photographer needs to master. Mr. Langley has said that the first jobs graduates from photography school usually obtain are to assist already established professional photographers, yet only one, brief class on assisting was offered during my year at the school, and it was at the insistence of Mr. Langley himself.
I got absolutely nothing from my "superior education" at Hallmark, as MANY other alumni haven't. I must have applied at every photoghraphy studio in Western Mass, and I used the resume written in the format that Hallmark told me to write in and then got a 100% on for an assignment, and I passed my portfolio review on the first try, so those weren't the issues. Most studios never even got to see my portfolio because they never invited me in for an interview. In 2009, Iris Photo and Digital in Northampton, MA, accidentally sent me a lovely response -- presumably (I hope) meant for someone else in the company -- to my online resume for a job ad on Craigslist:
"sounds impressive but there's no guarantee he actually knows any of it. I'm pretty sure working
alongside a Hallmark student would be a major pain in the a*s"
Nice, huh? Someone on the phone from a portrait studio I applied at actually laughed when I said I was from Hallmark. Apparently the school had a "reputation" even before news of George's fraud scandal broke. I talked to the student alumni/career services woman and she didn't give me any advice I hadn't already tried and flat-out admitted that it was very tough to find photography jobs in Western Mass. That was part of why I chose Hallmark, because it was close to home. Thanks for telling me now, guys.
My entire year at HIP was completely useless and worthless, as it has been for so many other graduates, and all we have to show for it is a massive amount of debt that, unlike every other type of personal debt, can never be discharged in bankruptcy. I finally gave up after a year of searching for a photography job and finding absolutely nothing, anywhere. I worked at a crap job I hated for a while -- the kind I thought I would be getting away from when I went to Hallmark by being able to find a much more rewarding career in photography afterwards, but that was a sick joke. I am now on disability, and -- like many other alumni -- struggle just to pay my bills because of this huge student loan payment I have to make every month for attending this corrupt, overpriced, horrible school I wish I never even heard of in the first place. I'm an indentured servant to the student loan company, like so many others, and it was all for absolutely nothing.
And George J. Rosa III got to spend the school's money on a Mercedes, a boat, two houses, his gambling habit and whatever else he pleased! I'm sure daddy would be so proud. (Actually, I'm sure it's now possible to power Turners Falls and the entire state of MA by harnessing the cenrtifugal friction from Hallmark founder George J. Rosa, Jr., spinning in his grave.) I really hope the next time he's crossing the street four blind guys come along driving cars. If George was half a man (and he is) he would have stepped down as HIP president, in shame. Do you know what men do in Japan when they publicly shame themselves? Why don't you take a cue from them, George?
It's hilarious that George filed for personal bankruptcy protection -- twice! -- to try to get out of his massive debts from a bank and other creditors he stole from! Just priceless! I'm glad People's United Bank sued him to prevent the bankruptcy court from discharging the $2.2 million he still owes them. I guess he had to sell some of his property, too, to raise money to try to pay back the bank after his bankruptcy petition was denied. Aw shucks! Poor baby! Now if they could just slap the handcuffs on him and send him to jail, where he belongs, for a long, long time! Judging from his actions I'd say that green must be George's favorite color, but I really hope he becomes intimately familiar with a new color: prison b***h orange.
P.S. Since George -- or someone else at Hallmark he forced to -- has (unintentionally hilariously) pretended to be a student to rebutt a couple of the complaints on this site -- as pointed out by two others already -- I look forward to any rebuttals from "former students." lol