The pushy "sales" routine already makes me suspicious, but I've researched them on the internet and the general consensus is that artists should avoid going there. However, I've seen a few current or former students claim that the problem with the college is not the college itself, but lazy students who do not do their work, learn nothing, and then go around talking about how terrible the school is.
If anyone has any advice for me, that would be great...
It depends almost entirely on the individual campuses. With 50 something campuses of course some are going to be awful. That is why I recommended researching the faculty and out-going students.
The fact is, the Art Institute really only has 2 well established and old campuses - Pittsburgh and Atlanta, both over 50 years old. The other campuses vary wildly in quality, and the bad ones, since they share the same name as the good ones, taint the word of mouth quite a bit.
The only ones I saw bad mouth the campus in Atlanta were generally poor artists and students. Truthfully, the school should have failed them, but took their money anyway. But there were also a lot of great students that came out of it, and a lot of outstanding professors. But yeah, you get out what you put in. SCAD is generally considered more prestigious, but it is even more expensive. At the studio I worked at, we had a joking rivalry between the AI alumni and the SCAD alumni, as most of the artists broke down along those lines. The work from both was of the same high quality, but we had more AI alumni kept on board than SCAD alumni when the studio started making cuts, for whatever that is worth. (Probably coincidence.) The point is, the studio didn't care where we went to school. They cared about our portfolios and the quality of our work on the in-house project.
EDIT: I should also mention the proximity of SCAD to AI of Atlanta keeps that AI campus on its toes, as you can almost throw a rock and hit the other school. The two are constantly being compared to each other and the quality of the Atlanta campus benefits from this other prestigious art school being on its doorstep as a rival. Several of our instructors were SCAD alumni of years past.
Don't attend an Art Institute that doesn't require a portfolio for admission. That is a big red flag if they don't. Do your research. Are there better art schools than AI out there. Yes. Definitely. They are also even more expensive. All art schools are private universities, so they will run 2-3 times the cost of a public university. Do your research and be very picky.
EDIT: I don't want to sound like I'm endorsing AI schools - I just had a positive experience with AI of Atlanta. Some of the best art schools are actually in Southern California. I'll repeat - do research. Lot's of it.