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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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July 1, 2010

ELCA-affiliated Dana College shuts down

Dana College, one of 27 ELCA colleges and universities, will shut down and not reopen for the 2010-2011 academic year, Dana’s Board of Regents announced June 30.

The 126-year-old, financially-struggling college was to have been sold this summer to Dana Education Corporation, a for-profit organization based in Nebraska. It would have ceased to be an ELCA college, much like Waldorf College, Forest City, Iowa, which was sold last year to a for-profit university.

Commission refused transfer

Dana’s sale fell through when the college’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, refused a change of control that would have transferred  accreditation to the new buyers. Without accreditation, Dana students would have been unable to access federal financial aid and other help.

A Dana College news release called the commission’s decision “inaccurate, unfair and based on speculation and information not included in the required change of control request.” According to The Lincoln Journal Star, the commission believed that the new buyers lacked higher education experience; that there would not be sufficient continuity of Dana’s mission and programs and that the buyers’ promise of $4.5 to $5.5 million would fund the school’s operational losses, but not its infrastructure.

According to insidehighered.com, the commission “insisted on a series of stipulations to approve the continued accreditation of Iowa’s Waldorf College —stipulations that will effectively keep the near-term focus of the college on its residential, liberal arts mission.”

The commission’s decisions related to Waldorf and Dana were “based on a new set of policies ... that require that the mission remain similar after a purchase if the new owner wants the accreditation to carry over,”  reported insidehighered.com. Commission president Sylvia Manning told  insidehighered.com the policy became more detailed last year due to increasing purchases of nonprofit institutions by for-profit investors.

Helping to situate students & some staff

Dana College board chair Dennis Gethmann said the board was “devastated,” but that Dana is committed to providing assistance for more than 500 students, as well as faculty and staff. Dana has made agreements for students to continue their studies at Grand View University, an ELCA institution in Des Moines, Iowa and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“Without a doubt, this decision by the HLC causes a major disruption in the lives of hundreds of Dana students, faculty and staff,” said Grand View University President Kent L. Henning. “To receive word, unexpectedly, in the middle of the summer that their institution is closing is a very stressful and unsettling situation. [We are responding] quickly with care, concern and flexibility to help these students progress toward their educational goals with the least possible disruption. ...Where possible, if we can assist faculty and/or staff colleagues with the impending transition in their careers, we will do so judiciously and appropriately.”

According to Benjamin Sasse, president at Midland Lutheran College, an ELCA institution in Fremont, Neb., Midland also plans to open its doors to students as well as some faculty and staff.

"This is a sad outcome for Dana," Sasse said in a statement on Midland's web site. "Because of our proximity and church affiliation, we have long shared some programs. As their closure has been a potential outcome for months, Midland built a plan for all Dana students and some faculty and staff. ...Our heart goes out to their community, and we stand ready to help."

So far that help will include allowing students to transfer all of their credits, retain their financial aid package and even, in some cases, keep their roommate assignments, said Jon Fredericks, Midland Lutheran College director of communications.  “Transfer students get free room and board,” he said, adding that Midland is trying to work out the legalities of offering this to Dana students as well. 

"It’s a wise investment for us,” Fredericks said. “We have a lot of great community support ... We have room in our classrooms and in our residence halls. We have the ability to serve more students than we currently enroll.”  

Calling the news of the closing “painful,” Stanley N. Olson, executive director for ELCA Vocation and Education, said: “We, here, grieve with many around the globe, and we express our deepest concern for those most immediately affected by the closing: students, faculty, staff, administration and the Blair community."

Dana's history of service to the world and church "will remain and will continue to have an impact," Olson said. "The ELCA is deeply grateful to President Janet Philipp and other present and past leaders and supporters of the college. President Philipp, Dana’s board and many others worked hard and creatively to find a way for the college’s educational mission to continue.”

“These are extraordinarily difficult times for small colleges,” Olson said.   

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