Dana College closes, Grand View and Midland take students
Changes came swiftly for Dana College, an ELCA college in Blair, Nebraska.
In response to long-term challenges facing the college, Dana administrators had planned to move control from the school’s board of regents to Dana Education Corporation, a for-profit group comprised of many Dana faculty and staff.
The regents were informed on June 30 that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) had denied its request for a change of control. With the HLC’s announcement, Dana’s capacity to continue its mission was challenged, and the board decided on July 12 to close the college, ending enrollment and classes for this fall.
“These decisions take longer. It is not something the president can just decide to do,” -Jon Fredricks
Dana had a teach-out agreement with Grand View University, another ELCA college located in Des Moines, Iowa, and the University of Nebraska in Omaha. This agreement ensured that currently enrolled Dana students would be able to complete their education.
Another college was also affected. Midland Lutheran College, an ELCA college in Fremont, Nebraska, had received about 300 applications from Dana students by July 7. “That is about half of the students at Dana,” Jon Fredricks, Midland’s communication director, told Metro Lutheran. “It will be hard to say anything for sure until classes have begun and students are in their desks,” he added.
It does not come as a surprise to Fredricks that Dana students are transferring to Midland. “We are sister institutions and about 12 miles apart,” he said. Additionally, Dana and Midland have had relationships in the past, including sharing faculty and a jazz band.
Midland has recently gone through some changes as well:
On February 18, Midland laid off 15 staff members, dropping several majors.
“It was a challenging time in February. To help serve the campus, we had to make changes,” Fredricks said. At the time, Midland had an enrollment of about 600, although there was staffing to support 1,000 students. Current staffing levels reflect the decrease in student body.
Midland’s physical structure is built to support 1,500 students. As recently as 2004, Midland was enrolling 934 students.
As a significant number of Dana students transfer to Midland, the latter’s enrollment is changing again. To prepare for this, the college is considering the hiring of faculty from Dana.
The board is also preparing to expand programming. “These decisions take longer. It is not something the president can just decide to do,” said Fredricks. “The board of trustees has authorized an ad hoc advisory group to move forward these decisions,” he said.
Any Midland program expansion will likely relate to the three strengths the college upheld during its period of restructuring: health science, business, and education.
The close proximity of Midland and Dana has to do with the history of Lutherans in America. “Once upon a time,” explained Associate Director for Educational Partnerships Mark Wilhelm, “there were geographical and ethnic synods. Often these synods started a college.”
Dana was founded by Danish immigrants, while Midland was founded by the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Synods that started colleges also owned and operated these colleges, but that is no longer true for ELCA-related schools.
Now Lutheran colleges and universities have a higher level of autonomy. The institutions of higher education are an expression of ministry in the ELCA, but they are not run by the ELCA churchwide expression. “It isn’t hierarchical,” Wilhelm said. Contractual language would describe the relationship of the ELCA churchwide expression with ELCA colleges and universities as “inter-dependent.”