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Full Sail University is a private, for-profit university in Winter Park, Florida. It was formerly a recording studio in Ohio named Full Sail Productions and Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts. The school moved to Florida in 1980 and began offering online degrees in 2007.
Full Sail is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges to award associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in audio, design, computer animation and business. In November 2018 it had approximately 8,921 students at its Winter Park Campus, as well as 10,250 students enrolled in online courses.
Full Sail University was founded by Jon Phelps in Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. Its curriculum was centered on recording arts and offered courses in audio engineering. It relocated to Orlando, Florida, in 1980 and added new courses to its core recording arts program. In 1989, Full Sail moved to its current location at Winter Park, Florida; the following year, it was accredited to grant specialized associate degrees.
Enrollment doubled between 1989 and 1991 at a time of increased interest in film and media studies. The university had financial difficulties in 1992 and its growth slowed. Between 1995 and 1999, it began offering associate degrees in computer animation, digital media, game design and development, and show production and touring; these were later expanded into full bachelor's degree programs.
In 2005, the school offered its first bachelor's degree program, a Bachelor of Science degree in entertainment business. In 2007, the first master's degree program—also in the entertainment industry—was offered. Online degree programs began in 2007, the first of which was an online adaptation of the existing Entertainment Business Master of Science.
The additions of the master's degree programs, among other factors, led to the school being recognized as a university by the state of Florida. In 2008 it changed its name from Full Sail Real World Education to Full Sail University after attaining university status from the Florida Department of Education's Commission for Independent Education. The campus expanded with the addition of a 1,780-foot (540-meter)-long backlot with 18 city facades designed to replicate the sets used in production of Hollywood films and television shows, which later expanded to 2,078 feet (633 m).
As the university grew between 2006 and 2011, the curriculum and degree programs were broadened, adding programs such as a Bachelor of Science in sports marketing and media, and a Master of Science degree in game design.
In 2012 WWE began filming episodes of its internet television show WWE NXT at Full Sail University. In June 2015, the school began hosting the WWE Tough Enough series. As part of the partnership between Full Sail and WWE, students have the opportunity to produce WWE NXT tapings, during which merchandise and tickets sales contribute to a scholarship fund for students enrolled at the university. As of January 2018, the partnership had resulted in $385,000 in scholarships. In September 2019, WWE and Full Sail University announced the expansion of their partnership as USA Network is set to host the promotion's NXT television series live from Full Sail University on a weekly basis beginning September 18, 2019. In 2020, it was announced that WWE NXT would stop taping at Full Sail University due to several reasons, the primary one being that students are no longer there to help with production given the COVID-19 pandemic response at the campus.
In 2015, the university announced a partnership with Wargaming and unveiled a user experience lab for conducting research projects.
Full Sail University's Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting was established in 2017, with a new sportscasting degree program and instruction provided by sportscaster, radio personality, and actor Dan Patrick, among other industry leaders.
The university moved to Winter Park in 1989. Full Sail University's approximately 200-acre (81-hectare) campus is located 8.6 miles (13.8 kilometers) northeast of downtown Orlando. The campus has soundstages, a film backlot, and 110 studios. An office building for teaching staff for the online degree program was leased in 2009.
In 2010 a new game studio was named "Blackmoor" (after a campaign in Dungeons & Dragons) in honor of Dave Arneson, who taught game design at the school from 1999 to 2008. In November 2010, in partnership with ESPN, the school opened a new laboratory for research and development in studio technologies. Two months later, approximately 200 Full Sail Online employees moved into the Gateway Center in Downtown Orlando. Also in 2011, the university announced plans to construct an 86,000-square-foot (8,000 m2) educational building to house 475 faculty and staff, additional film and television soundstages and classrooms; it was scheduled for completion in early 2012. In July 2011, Full Sail acquired Lakeview Office Park in Orlando.
In October 2018, Full Sail announced plans to construct an esports arena called "The Fortress". The 11,200-square-foot venue opened in May 2019, serves as home of Full Sail University's esports team, Armada.
Full Sail University has hosted NXT Wrestling productions for several years, but NXT is moving to another venue since Full Sail's students are not available to help with the show due to the COVID-19 pandemic. WWE NXT Wrestling did use Full Sail University's facilities during quarantine, and the WWE has full intention of coming back once crowds are allowed again.
In 2020, The Fortress was named a top-10 collegiate esports facility. It was also named one of the "15 Most Elite Universities for Pursuing Esports Careers in North America" in 2020.
Full Sail's academic degree programs are primarily focused on audio, film and media production, video game design, animation and other studies related to the media and entertainment industries. Full Sail began offering coursework in creating augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) projects in 2016, housed in the campus's Fabrication Lab. AR coursework is also supported by the Smart Lab, opened in May 2019, which provides AR, home network, and touchscreen technology for testing applications.
Full Sail custom-built a learning management system (LMS) for their online courses; the LMS is Macintosh-based, and utilizes content created by an in-house curriculum development team in conjunction with campus-based instructors. In 2018, Full Sail partnered with Doghead Simulations to provide Rumii, a VR classroom app, to their undergraduates taking online classes.
The university's Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting was established in 2017, with a new sportscasting degree program and instruction provided by sportscaster, radio personality, and actor Dan Patrick, among other industry leaders.
The university is nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). The college has been subject to criticism regarding transferability of credits, as credits from nationally accredited schools often do not transfer to regionally accredited schools.
According to The New York Times in 2009, institutions in the for-profit college industry were having issues with high loans and low graduation rates. According to Inside Higher Ed, "a closer look at the numbers reveals that graduation rates are not a major problem at Full Sail: the overall graduation rate is a fairly high 78%, according to federal data".
In the same 2009 article, however, The Times noted that Full Sail's students have posted some criticisms on YouTube postings about the school, claiming high costs, low placement, and difficulties with credit transfer.
Full Sail has a 55% overall graduation rate and a 12.7% student loan default rate.
In 1989, 1990, and 1991, the Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts won Mix magazine's outstanding institutional achievement award for recording schools.
In 2005, Rolling Stone called Full Sail "one of the five best music programs in the country".
The college was named FAPSC School/College of the Year (an award for which only career colleges in Florida were eligible) by the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC) in 2008, 2011, and 2014. Full Sail was recognized for its 21st-century best practices in distance learning by the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) in 2011, and was the recipient of New Media Consortium Center for Excellence Award in 2011 and 2015.
Full Sail was included in The Princeton Review's 2010 list of the nation's top fifty undergraduate video game design programs, and ranked number 17 and number 18 in their 2016 and 2018 lists of top 25 graduate schools for game design, respectively. Full Sail also ranked number 30 in The Princeton Review's list of undergraduate programs for game design. TheWrap ranked Full Sail in their 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 lists of the "Top 50 Film Schools". In 2018, College Magazine ranked Full Sail number five in their list of the top 10 colleges for video game design. In Tune Monthly included Full Sail in their 2017 and 2018 lists of the "best music schools". In January 2020, Animation Career Review ranked Full Sail University number 19 in their list of Top 50 Animation Schools in the US.
Instructors at Full Sail have included Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson, who taught game design, and Stedman Graham. Other notable instructors include multi-platinum winning audio engineers Darren Schneider, Course Director of Advanced Session Recording; Veit Renn, the Course Director of Audio Engineering Techniques; and James Neihouse, cinematographer and lifetime member of the Academy, a 6,000-member group that votes on Oscar nominees. Former wrestler Ed Ferrera teaches the creative writing program.