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Dana College
The Durham Classroom Center on the Dana College campus (Courtesy / Dana College)

Dana College in Blair will not open for the fall semester after its accrediting agency denied its request to transfer its accreditation to its new owners.

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredits Dana College.

On Wednesday, the commission's Board of Trustees sent Dana College President Janet Philipp a letter announcing its decision to deny the college continuing accreditation should it go ahead with its plans to sell.

The Dana College Board of Regents made the decision to close the college Wednesday after its new buyers decided to not go ahead with purchasing the college and turning it into a for-profit college, said board Chairman Dennis Gethmann.

"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," Gethmann said. "Nebraska political and public figures were supportive of the proposed change."

The Dana Education Corp. and the Nebraska Higher Education Corp. had planned to buy the college.

But Raj Kaji, president of the Dana Education Corp., said Wednesday the commission's decision to deny the college continuing accreditation ended the deal.

"We are deeply saddened by the impact this will have on the Dana community, the faculty and staff, the community of Blair, the state of Nebraska and most importantly the hundreds of students who will be displaced by this decision," Kaji said.

Dana College students will be able to continue their studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Grand View University in Iowa, according to Dana College.

On Thursday, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced it would waive its transfer admission deadline to admit, enroll and provide campus housing for eligible Dana College transfer or new students for the fall semester. UNL's transfer admission application deadline for the fall semester was May 1.

The Lutheran college in Blair has been struggling in recent years to increase its enrollment and pay off multimillion-dollar budget deficits.

The Higher Learning Commission told the college in a letter Wednesday that the college had failed to meet the requirements for transferring accreditation to a new owner.

Dana was founded in 1884 as a seminary for Lutheran ministry students and has remained a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Today, there are 550 students enrolled from 35 states, according to the college's website.

Among the Higher Learning Commission's reasons for denying continuing accreditation to Dana College's buyers were these:

  • An inability to demonstrate sufficient continuity of the college's mission and educational programs. According to the commission, the buyer's plan to offer online classes would differ from the college's historical "residential liberal arts programs."
  • An inability to show that the college's "institutional and educational integrity" would be protected. According to the commission, the college's new board would lack sufficient autonomy from its buyers to make critical decisions, such as hiring a CEO or approving its operating budget.

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  • An inability to prove sufficient financial support for the purchase. According to the commission, the buyers have promised $4.5 million to $5.5 million to fund the college's operational losses, but that amount wouldn't adequately address the college's infrastructure costs.
  • A failure to show they could recruit enough students to restore the college to profitability without recruiting online students.
  • Failure to prove previous experience in higher education. "The senior administrators proposed for Dana College after the transaction have never previously worked together or revitalized a liberal arts college offering education to a traditional-age student population," according to the commission.

The college said in a news release the commission's decision was "inaccurate, unfair and based on speculation and information not included in the required change of control request."

"We are committed to providing assistance to our students, faculty and staff in the coming days," Gethmann said.

Ben Sasse, president of Midland Lutheran College, a Lutheran-affiliated college in Fremont, said his college planned to help students and some faculty and staff of Dana.

"Our heart goes out to their community, and we stand ready to help," he said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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