• October 22, 2014

Dana College Announces It Will Close, Blaming Accreditor's Decision Against New Owners

Dana College, a small, financially struggling institution in Nebraska that had sought a path back to solvency through a sale to private investors, announced on Wednesday that the sale would not proceed and that the college would close because its accreditation would not transfer to the potential new owners.

The investor group that had formed to buy the college, an entity called Dana Education Corporation, had said in March that it planned to maintain a residential campus but also offer online courses. The college's accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, cited the planned online courses among its reasons for denying the institution's request for its accreditation to continue after a change of control.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, the commission said the transfer proposal failed to demonstrate sufficient continuity of the college's mission and educational programs, and to show that the college's "institutional and educational integrity" would be protected.

In an online statement, Dana College officials criticized the Higher Learning Commission's decision as "inaccurate, unfair, and based on speculation and information not included in the required change-of-control request. "

"We are devastated that despite meeting all requests and assiduously working to meet all requirements, the HLC decision does not allow for Dana's continuing operation," Dennis Gethmann, chairman of the college's Board of Regents, said in the statement.

The statement quoted Raj Kaji, president of Dana Education Corporation, as saying that the group was "deeply saddened" by the effect the decision would have on the college, its community, and "the hundreds of students who will be displaced."

The 125-year-old college, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has about 550 students. Dana said it has agreements with the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Grand View University, in Iowa, that will allow its students to continue their studies.

The accreditor's decision comes as Congress and the Department of Education have ratcheted up their scrutiny of the fast-growing for-profit higher-education sector and the agencies that accredit for-profit colleges. Two weeks ago, at a hearing of the House of Representatives education committee, lawmakers took the Higher Learning Commission to task for the standards it had used in granting approval to another for-profit institution, American InterContinental University.

That hearing came on the same day that the Education Department announced proposed new rules that would hold for-profit institutions, which account for 25 percent of all Pell Grant funds, more accountable in the ways they market themselves and for the education they provide.

Last week, the Senate education committee held a hearing in which lawmakers vowed to crack down on "bad actors" in the sector to protect federal student-aid dollars from fraud and abuse.

And on Wednesday, a key senator called for a ban on the practice of allowing companies to acquire accreditation through the purchase of nonprofit colleges. That was one of several concerns voiced by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, in a speech in Washington. He also called for limits on the amount of federal student aid that may be spent on marketing, a review of a rule that allows for-profit colleges to receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid, and a closer look at private loans that for-profit colleges make to their students.

Comments

1. jamesm - July 01, 2010 at 09:12 am

It's sad to see a small college close. I know that Dana served hundreds of students who wanted it to survive. But I have to agree that accreditation should be earned, not bought, so I agree with the HLC decision.

2. 22113683 - July 01, 2010 at 09:29 am

It is really sad. It will leave a huge hole, not only in the town but in the state. Nebraska is not over-served by private colleges, and Dana has been a bright spot for many years. But I also agree with jamesm and with the HLC that the accreditation which Dana earned the hard way ought not to be for sale.

3. 11294136 - July 01, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Since when did the HLC of North Central decide to be selective? Look at the online universities to see how many have their regional accrediatation from that source!

4. westlt - July 01, 2010 at 12:42 pm

It's a shame as this is a nice little campus... colleagial and cordial.
But there are alternatives for them.... MidStates and some other accreditors are less meddlesome. There is always DETC too.
Don't give up; there's no need in today's world.

5. 902784010 - July 01, 2010 at 12:46 pm

After 126 years, the storied Light on the Hill has gone out ...

6. tomten - July 01, 2010 at 01:44 pm

Anybody know if DC was founded by Danish Lutherans?

7. arrive2__net - July 01, 2010 at 02:05 pm

It is unfortunate that a college that is apparently effectively benefiting students had to close, but I think society in general depends upon the regional accreditors and the federal government to uphold reasonable standards. Is that what happened here? If it was then the HLC did their job.

Bernard Schuster
Arrive2.net

8. germanic_peasant - July 01, 2010 at 05:41 pm

I am truly saddened to hear that Dana College is closing. Couldn't the state of Nebraska have prevented this? Dana has been with us for 126 years - and is a part of Nebraska's proud pioneer heritage. What a loss for the young people of Nebraska!

9. kevinwass - July 01, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Sad to see it go, but there are many of us who could have done more to try to help. In the end, there just isn't much demand for the type of education Dana offers, which is in itself sad.

Tomten--Dana was indeed founded by Danish Lutherans as Trinity Seminary. The seminary was absorbed into another institution some years back.

Goodbye Dana--it is "time to launch your little bark on Destiny's Deep Sea..."

Kevin Wass
Associate Prof., Texas Tech Univ
Dana College class of 1993

10. washingtonwarrior - July 02, 2010 at 08:25 am

Midland Lutheran just down the road in Fremont will benefit greatly from this. They will increase enrollment by taking former Dana students and will no longer compete against another Lutheran schools a mere 40 minutes away.

11. myemotan - July 02, 2010 at 11:47 am

Merger Logistics Problem?
Maybe a stronger (made-in-good-faith) bilateral (Dana/Midland) effort to merge the two institutions could have saved the day. (Dr. Okhamafe)

12. 902784010 - July 02, 2010 at 03:02 pm

The storied little Light on the Hill has gone out. Sadly, we all could've done more for Dana. I am heartbroken I didn't.

There are a number of questions:

- Why couldn't community leaders find a way collectively to gather the $5 million to cover the growing budget deficit, zero out the operating account, and put Dana on solid footing for the future so the college could move forward with its mission, while preserving the $27 million in annual inflows to the Blair economy? Five million dollars vs. $27 million per year (plus inflation) multiplied by another 100 years? Blair passed a city sales tax to get Cargill into town. Why not a city sales tax to keep Dana? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

- Why weren't the administration and fundraisers adept enough at impressing upon local leaders, benefactors and alumni the severity of the situation?

- Why weren't the college's leaders clever and savvy enough to market to the area's college-bound students and remain competitive with other local universities and colleges?

- Why can't a college like Dana file for bankruptcy protection and reorganize while still conducting business / classes?

Ultimately, I call on our city, state and national leaders to look more closely at the decision of the regional accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, to deny transfer of accreditation to the new proposed owners, the Dana Educational Corporation. By many accounts, the agency's decision seems capricious, arbitrary, unfair, and based on faulty reasoning and inaccurate judgments. There is no appealing the accrediting body's decision and, therefore, no due process.

I grew up in Blair, Nebraska, and attended Dana college, earning my degree in 1990. Both my parents, a younger sister and a younger brother all received degrees from the school. Numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and other members of my extended family attended the institution, met there, married there, raised families, and sent their children there. My father was a professor at Dana for his entire 40-plus-year tenure. A grandfather served on its board of regents. Most of my best friends attended and now comprise a Dana diaspora that lives and works throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Indeed, I literally grew up on the campus and I am crushed to learn of its impending closure. It's too late to save Dana but the Higher Learning Commission should be subject to pressure from Nebraska politicians and influential citizens, be fully scrutinized, and be held accountable for its decision.

Yes, Washington, D.C., politicians may be cracking down on the practice of transferring accreditation to for-profit institutions. Some of the criticisms leveled at for-profit institutions are warranted. But in the current economic climate, can the state of Nebraska, the community of Blair and the nation at large afford to accept passively these kinds of decisions that will displace hundreds and have a severe negative economic and social impact on the people of its heartland? We can agree that it's important to preserve the integrity of the educational mission and protect it from unscrupulous manipulation for financial gain. We can also agree that any education -- even for-profit education -- is a good thing and that a fully functioning college, with wide-ranging social, educational and economic benefits to its community, is better than no college at all.

I urge you to to look into the matter and to do all that you can to see that the HLC is never again allowed to have this type of impact on another Great Plains community.

Write our leaders to ask them to scrutinize more closely the work of the Higher Learning Commission:

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman
http://www.governor.nebraska.gov/mail/govmail.html
U.S. Senator Ben Nelson [D-NE]
http://bennelson.senate.gov/email-issues.cfm

U.S. Senator Mike Johanns [R-NE]
http://johanns.senate.gov/public/?p=EmailSenatorJohanns
U.S. Congressman John Fortenberry [R-NE1]
http://fortenberry.house.gov/contact/
U.S. Congressman Lee Terry [R-NE2]
https://leeterryforms.house.gov/Contact_Form.shtml
Kay Gilcher, Accreditation Division Director, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education
kay.gilcher@ed.gov

Denise Fisher, Nebraska Department of Education, Commissioners Office
denise.fisher@nebraska.gov

Nebraska State Senator Kent Rogert [District 16]
krogert@leg.ne.gov

Blair Mayor James Realph
jrealph@ci.blair.ne.us

Blair City Councilman Marty Shepard [Ward 4]
mshepard@ci.blair.ne.us

Blair City Councilman Jon Stewart [Ward 4]
jstewart@ci.blair.ne.us

Higher Learning Commission
president@hlcommission.org

13. rear_view_mirror - July 02, 2010 at 03:58 pm

Has anyone else seen how much state universities are able to cut corners and still maintain accreditation? Too big to fail? Too connected?

14. willynilly - July 02, 2010 at 06:06 pm

Without any doubt whatsoever, the accrediting body made the absolutely correct decision. Accreditation cannot be bought or sold.

15. nicklau - July 02, 2010 at 08:21 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

16. 902784010 - July 02, 2010 at 09:10 pm

Willnilly: Accreditation isn't permanent. It must be renewed. The Dana College incoming administration's stated plan was to leave the college's mission and tenure system unchanged. If, in the future, the Higher Learning Commission reviewed the school's programs and methods and found them to be out of line with the HLC's accreditation requirements, it could've revoked the accreditation or mandated changes. Now that the college is closed, what are the options? Zilch. Can we all agree that education is a good thing? Even at some for-profit institutions? It's certainly better than no education, zero cultural, social or economic impact on a community. The HLC did not act in good faith. By some accounts, the HLC blind-sided Dana College with a bait and switch, hitting the community of Blair with a ton of bricks. It was a political decision, pure and simple, due to pressure from Washington, D.C. Great timing, too! Put another nail in the coffin of our country's economy and add another few hundred people to the unemployment lines. Well done, Higher Learning Commission, well done.

17. cwinton - July 02, 2010 at 09:35 pm

I couldn't agree with willynilly more. It's past time we shut down the practice of buying out institutions primarily for the cachet of accreditation, then using the credibility of the purchased institution to float "programs" that are only intended to leach money from the federal student loan program under the guise of providing students with an all too easily obtained degree credential. At least with diploma mills one could fall back on let the buyer beware, but now it is the taxpayer who is ultimately on the hook for the dollars lining the pockets of this kind of for-profit operator. As for accreditation renewal, 902784010 is undoubtedly well aware that the period separating accreditation visits is more than ample for one of these outfits to clean up at the expense of all of us. As for the politics, politicians become involved when enough of us wake up to begin demanding that changes be made to curtail the sleaze someone always seems to concoct to profit from a government program.

18. dilettanteforhire - July 02, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I too applaud the HLC's decision. For-profit schools are to education what payday loans are to banking -- a short-term fix that is very often devastating in the long run. Though the loss of Dana will be devastating to Blair, I'm not sure if being home to a diploma mill would be that much more beneficial. It is true they employ many people (most in marking/recruiting/sales), some handsomely paid. However, for-profit schools always rely on a large online contingent of students who wouldn't set foot in Blair. Community involvement is almost non-existent. Small schools in the state like Dana, Doane, Midlands Lutheran, and Peru have been hanging on by a thread for a long time. Some have taken steps to adapt, but the announcement of the purchase seemed to be a Hail Mary pass that had a very high likelihood of not working (regardless of the HLC).

19. blugold4 - July 05, 2010 at 01:10 am

It seems to me that blaming the HLC's decision obscures more important questions. The President of Dana before the most recent one spent about fifteen years getting the school on fairly stable financial ground primarily through his fundraising efforts. Upon his retirement, the Board hires someone with no fundraising experience, and suspect administrative experience, which in my opinion, was the main reason for Dana's demise. If Gethmann and his fellow boards members would have "worked assiduously" to hire a good President, the school may not be closing.

20. danastudent - July 05, 2010 at 03:38 am

TO all of you commenters who "applaud the HLC's decision": please look at this situation through the eyes of a CURRENT student, faculty or staff member.

As a current stuent, I am/was planning on graduating with a Bachelors of Social Work degree from Dana College. Dana is one of only four schools in Nebraska at which one can have an accredited degree of Social Work. During my three years, I managed to play volleyball and lacrosse and also be president and secretary to more than a few organizations. I was also a Dana Diplomat and a member and officer to the SW honorary club.

In May of 2011, I was supposed to walk across the Gardner-Hawks stage and receive my diploma. I went into little financial debt to be able to attend Dana, and even now, I do not regret that. I had some of the finest teachers I could ask for, a great education and would not change a thing.

Also, while attending Dana, I was able to travel to Guatemala and England/Scotland for academic purposes. These trips have left me with life-long memories and I have learned many things that can be used in my intended area of study.

Many of the things that I have done, the trips I have taken and the sports I have played would not be available to participate in at a large university. Also, at a large university, many of the students in the classroom are just that, students. THey are numbers and have no relationships with their professors or classmates. THis is exactly why students go to Dana. To get a real education, play a sport, have an opportunity to travel, to become a well-rounded person not just a number, and to meet people who will become life long friends.

THe news of the HLC not allowing the pass of ownership of Dana College which has led to the closing of the doors floored me. The DEC had already started making positive changes on campus, met with students, asked for the students opinions and really built trust in us. They also had worked with admissions to bring in a freshman class of nearly 350 new students for the academic year of 2010-11.

After hearing this news, I have been upset for days. Now, instead of enjoying my summer, I am scrambling to get my transcripts from four different schools, the FASFA updated and my financial situation figured out. I have less than a month to get everything ready, the papers in order and classes registered.

Here is a look of what a former-current student of Dana College is going through on the summer before her senior year.

21. alathea - July 06, 2010 at 09:50 am

As a current student you are directly affected, true, but you seem to be seeing the tree instead of the forest. If DEC purchased the school (and remember, they already bombed their accreditation once for many good, and well defined reasons) and couldn't get accredited, or worse, your degree became marred by their name attached to it, what would you do then? You are worried about you, and rightly so, but those of us looking at the HLC decision from outside see it for what it is, a positive addition to the overall landscape of colleges in the US, and something that should have been done a long time ago. When I discharged from the Army in 2002 I received almost as many college applications from Mc Schools wanting my GI BIll/Voc Rehab Chap 31 money as I did from injury lawyers seeking to capitalize on my disabled veteran status. That should tell you something. I attended Dana for two wonderful years, and my wife graduated in 2000. Several close friends have graduated from Dana, and one of them is a third generation graduate. All of them see this decision as an overall positive thing. You should have no problem getting back on your feet, but remember that jumping into bed with someone just because they wave money at you has consequences-in the case of Dana and the DEC, those consequences could have resulted in you/yours having to retake entire sections of your already completed coursework at another school because of transfer issues, or worse, an employer not recognizing your degree from Dana because of its 'for profit' status.

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