Dana College Discontinued

Ashley Thorne

Having lost its accreditation, Dana College, a small Lutheran college in Nebraska founded in 1884 by Danish pioneers, announced this week that it will close. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools feared, among other things, that the college—which planned to offer online courses after being bought by the Dana Education Corporation—was drifting away from its residential liberal arts mission. 

On its website, Dana has posted a plea for donations and help from volunteers so that the school can close gracefully: 

Currently no one at the college is being paid. God bless those who are still working there diligently to make this as orderly a transition as possible under the circumstances. Local businesses such as Washington County Bank, Great Plains Communications and American Broadband have pitched in by sending personnel to help and providing lunches for workers. You, too, can help in several ways... 

Dana College was one of the 114 private non-profit institutions listed by the Department of Education a year ago as having failed the Department’s test of financial responsibility. Failing the test can be a sign that a college may not survive. I commented on this list last June in “Endangered Colleges,” noting that “Of the 114, three are historically black colleges, many are liberal arts-focused, and 75 have religious affiliations.” 

Having been a student at a small college that nearly lost accreditation, my heart goes out to the students and employees at Dana who now find themselves scattered. But while there is pain and loss for the community and alumni every time a college dies, Dana’s demise is a fresh occasion to consider: should colleges close when the time is right? 

I believe they should, and that we mustn’t feel the need to keep every college going forever on artificial life support. I recall Parker Palmer’s words in Let Your Life Speak (via Alice Brown in Inside Higher Ed, “Time to Close the College?”): “By allowing something to die when its time is due, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.” 

I hope some new life emerges in the gap left by Dana’s closing—let’s seize the moment to think outside the box—and in the meantime, may those who found a home at Dana not be orphans long.  

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