• Intro
  • 1929-1950
  • 1951-1970
  • 1971-1991
  • 1992-Present

Our History

Like the city it's called home since 1929, Academy of Art University has always existed on the vanguard of innovation and creativity. The Academy and San Francisco have grown up together and served as mutual sources of inspiration and talent - take a look back at notable moments in the Academy's history in San Francisco. Explore the Timeline


Richard S. Stephens, Art Director for Sunset Magazine, founds the Académie of Advertising Art with his wife Clara, in a rented loft at 215 Kearny St. with 45 students.

1946: The Academy moves to 740 Taylor Street with 250 students and new courses in Advertising and Commercial Art, Fashion Illustration, Cartooning, and Lettering & Layout.


1951: Richard A. Stephens, son of founder Richard S. Stephens, assumes leadership of the school. Throughout his tenure he will grow the school from 250 students to over 5,000 students and satisfies his love of cars by adding the transportation design department and the classic car collection - one of the largest in the country.

1966: The Academy acquires its own space at 740 Taylor Street and begins offering a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art.


1977: The school adds its first graduate program and offers a Master of Fine Arts degree for the first time.

1985: The Academy gains accreditation from NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) and now has over 5,000 students.


Elisa Stephens, granddaughter of founder Richard S. Stephens, is appointed President of the university and ushers in a new digital age. By expanding the curriculum, degree programs, and accreditation, she grows the student population to over 14,000. She also took the university green by converting its entire shuttle fleet to bio-diesel, switching to LED lighting, and implementing campus-wide composting and recycling.

Looking Ahead:
The spirit of San Francisco informs everything we do. As we look to the future, we strive to keep the same sense of innovation, diversity, and wonder that makes this mecca of creativity one of the greatest cities in the world.

Mission Statement

Academy of Art University prepares aspiring professionals in the fields of design, communication and the arts by delivering excellent undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate and portfolio development programs. To achieve its mission Academy of Art University:

  • maintains an inclusive admissions policy for all persons who meet basic requirements for admission and instruction and who want to obtain higher learning in a wide spectrum of disciplines in art and design;
  • teaches a disciplined approach to the study of art and design that encourages students to develop their own styles that blend their talents, technical skills and creative aspirations with professional knowledge;
  • enlists a dedicated and very able full-time and part-time faculty of career artists, designers and scholars who are professionals and whose success as educators comes from their ability to teach students through the wisdom and skill they have amassed through years of experience and study;
  • operates in an urban context so that academic programs can draw upon and contribute to the cultural wealth of those communities that are served;
  • provides a creative environment that is at once supportive and challenging and underpinned by excellent personalized teaching and support services that address the needs of students of diverse ages and backgrounds;
  • offers an undergraduate general education program designed to stimulate development of critical thinking, and communications skills, and to encourage emerging artists to draw upon a variety of disciplines to look at issues from multiple perspectives and to cultivate the ability to function as educated global citizens;
  • manages in an ethical and efficient manner and administers the finances in a prudent fashion; and
  • fosters optimum quality in all aspects of programs and services.

What We Believe

All-Inclusive Admissions

All that's required is a passion for learning and developing your skills as an artist.

A Community of Support

We challenge our students to reach their full creative potential in an atmosphere of support and deep collaboration. 

Ethics in Art

We hold ourselves to—and strive to instill in our students—the highest ethical standards of personal and professional integrity. 

Learn From Professionals

We believe that the best teachers are actual working creatives. Our faculty is comprised of art and design experts who maintain careers on the leading edge of industry trends. 

An Urban Citizen

Informed by our home in San Francisco, we aim to give back to the culture in the spirit of generosity and compassion.

Our Leadership

For three generations, the Stephens family has been devoted to inspiring yours.

Learn More About Leadership

Facts About Us


We've been offering an innovative online arts education since 2002.


We hold over 70 student and alumni art shows and gallery exhibitions in San Francisco each year.


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CIDA Accreditation

Council for Interior Design Accreditation

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for interior design education programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. The BFA Interior Architecture & Design and the MFA Interior Architecture & Design programs are both accredited by the CIDA. CIDA is located at 206 Grandville Ave., Suite 350, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-4014. Tel. 1-616-458-0400

CTC Accreditation

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Accreditation

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) is an agency in the Executive Branch of California State Government. The major purpose of the agency is to serve as a state standards board for educator preparation for the public schools of California, the licensing and credentialing of professional educators in the State, the enforcement of professional practices of educators, and the discipline of credential holders in the State of California. CTC accredits the Academy of Art University's Single Subject Art Teaching Credential Program. They are located at 1900 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95811. Tel: 916-322-6253.

NOTE: The online Art Teaching Credential and the Masters in Art Teaching requires fieldwork assignments in observing and teaching art to pupils in local Bay Area public schools.

NAAB Accreditation

The National Architectural Accrediting Board [NAAB.org]
In the United States, most registration boards require a degree from an accredited professional degree program as a prerequisite for licensure. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), which is the sole agency authorized to accredit professional degree programs in architecture offered by institutions with U.S. regional accreditation, recognizes three types of degrees: the Bachelor of Architecture, the Master of Architecture, and the Doctor of Architecture. A program may be granted an eight-year, three-year, or two-year term of accreditation, depending on the extent of its conformance with established educational standards.

Doctor of Architecture and Master of Architecture degree programs may require a pre-professional undergraduate degree in architecture for admission. However, the pre-professional degree is not, by itself, recognized as an accredited degree.

The Academy of Art University, School of Architecture, offers the following NAAB-accredited degree programs:

NASAD Accreditation

National Association of Schools of Art and Design

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the national accrediting agency for art and design and art and design-related disciplines. The Academy of Art University is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) to offer degrees of Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Certificates. All Academy of Art University AA, BA, BFA, MA, MFA and Art Teaching Credential programs are accredited by NASAD except for the programs offered by these schools: School of Acting, School of Architecture, School of Communications & Media Technologies, School of Landscape Architecture, School of Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, School of Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media, and also the AA in Automotive Restoration offered by the School of Industrial Design and the BS in Game Programming offered by the School of Game Development. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is located at 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 21, Reston, VA, 20190. Tel. 703.437.0700

WSCUC Accreditation

WASC Senior College and University Commission

Academy of Art University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), one of the seven regional associations that accredit public and private colleges and schools in the United States. WSCUC is located at 985 Atlantic Avenue #100, Alameda, CA, 94501. Tel. 510.748.9001.

WSCUC Accreditation for Online Programs
Both onsite and online degree programs at Academy of Art University are accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The following degree programs are not currently offered online: AA, BFA and MFA in Acting, MA in Advanced Architectural Design, BS in Game Programming, and AA in Automotive Restoration.

Academy of Art University received reaffirmation of accreditation in 2014 for a term of 7 years from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). At that time, WSCUC indicated particular concern that Academy of Art University engage with the recommendations of the Commission on five “areas for continuing action and development”: Leadership and Organizational Structure and Effectiveness (efficiency of decision-making and planning); The Faculty Role (engaging with the greater life of the institution); Student Success (improving graduation rates); Student Life (integrating the co-curriculum and maturing offerings); and Strategic Planning (centralized plans drawing on multiple perspectives, especially faculty). A Special Visit was held in September 2016, and at their meeting February 15-17, 2017, the Commission acknowledged the great progress made in each of the areas but in order to determine the level of sustainability and impact, the Commission voted to continue the Formal Notice of Concern through spring 2018.

The Commission scheduled a special visit in spring 2018 that focused on the university’s progress in addressing the Commission recommendations. (1. Institutional decision making and transparency; management roles and communication 2. Formalized faculty governance structures 3. Codified faculty roles and responsibilities; faculty culture 4. Expanded Institutional Research function in relation to student persistence and graduation rates 5. Bottom up approach to Strategic Planning decision making and communication). Since 2016, widespread engagement by faculty, staff and the board of directors and the continued work of dedicated committees sought to address the Commission’s recommendations, recognizing the ongoing benefits for continuous improvement to the institution as a whole.

The WSCUC Special Visit team conducted the Special Visit on March 15-16, 2018. Academy of Art University expresses our sincere gratitude to the team for their hard work and dedication to peer review, the accreditation process and improving higher education.

Academy of Art University would like to thank the visiting team for its commendations of the university:

1. Embracing the spirit and intent of the WSCUC standards and processes that has led to improved transparency, communication, collaboration, and evidence-based planning and decision making

2. Discovering the importance and value of institutional data to drive decision making and empowering stakeholders to engage in evidenced-based planning and decision making

3. Engaging with all faculty in a participatory manner to develop further and formalize structures and processes for genuine shared governance, unique to the institutional mission and type

4. Progressing impressively with operationalizing decision-making processes that are clear and distributed to key stakeholders across the organization, most notably in the ASC’s planning, deliberations, and decision making

5. Defining, codifying, and communicating the faculty roles, levels, and responsibilities (including directors, level leaders, and coordinators, etc.) that is fostering an emerging and vital institutional faculty culture

The Academy will engage with the team’s recommendation that AAU continue positive momentum in the areas of:

• Collaborative and institute-wide efforts with data-informed and evidenced-based decision making

• Supporting and encouraging the growth of AAU’s emerging faculty governance structure in which decision-making authority is clearly defined and academic leadership is exercised

• Promoting transparency and collaboration within the university around decision-making processes

The visiting team report can be found here.

At its meeting on June 28, 2018 the WSCUC Commission voted to remove the formal Notice of Concern. As a result, the Academy returns to the regular accreditation cycle (reaffirmation of accreditation 2021). The Commission Action Letter can be found here.

Upcoming WSCUC visits include the Mid-Cycle Review in summer 2018, reaffirmation of accreditation offsite review in fall 2020 and reaffirmation of accreditation onsite visit in spring 2021.

If you have any questions about WSCUC, please contact Cathy Corcoran (ccorcoran@academyart.edu), Academy of Art University’s WSCUC Accreditation Liaison Officer.

Non-Discrimination Statement

Academy of Art University admits students of any race, color, age, religion, and national or ethnic origin to all rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. The Academy does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, religion, physical handicap, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, scholarship and loan programs, and other school-administered programs.

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