The predominantly Black Lincoln College, a small private college in a rural area of central Illinois, is closing its doors for good in May after 157 years.
“Lincoln College has notified the Illinois Department of Higher Education and Higher Learning Commission of permanent closure, effective May 13, 2022, a news release stated. “The Board of Trustees has voted to cease all academic programming at the end of the spring semester.”
The school cited being unable to survive the financial strain caused by the covid-19 pandemic and a cyberattack on the school in Dec. 2021, which originated in Iran, according to Lincoln College President David Gerlach.
Gerlach told the Chicago Tribune that the coronavirus pandemic and ransomware attack left the college in need of $50 million to sustain its operations.
The institution, which is located 167 miles southwest of Chicago in the city of Lincoln, experienced record-breaking student enrollment in Fall 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the cyber attack left them unable to access any institutional data, reversing all of the institution’s prior progress.
Of the students enrolled at Lincoln College in full-time undergraduate programs, 53.8 percent are Black.
By the Fall of 2020, the college reported 905 students enrolled as undergraduates and it was struggling with “dramatically impacted recruitment and fundraising efforts.” Founded in 1865, Lincoln College was designated a predominantly Black institution by the U.S. Department of Education — one of seven U.S. schools so designated in rural areas, according to WICS-TV Springfield.
“The economic burdens initiated by the pandemic required large investments in technology and campus safety measures, as well as a significant drop in enrollment with students choosing to postpone college or take a leave of absence, which impacted the institution’s financial position,” the college said in a statement.
The loss of Lincoln College will be significant, Gerlach said. “Lincoln College has been serving students from across the globe for more than 157 years. The loss of history, careers and a community of students and alumni is immense.”
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Students and staff embarked on a variety of fundraising initiatives under the umbrella “Save Lincoln College” campaign, which included a GoFundMe campaign that only raised $2,452. They were ultimately unsuccessful in raising the necessary amount.
Student Government President Klaudia Blaszczyk spoke of the difficulty they had in raising funds. “It’s getting very tough,” Blaszczyk said. “People are giving up. We’re still waiting for that amazing donor but it’s definitely not getting easier.”
Though the school is set to close, faculty member Dr. Annette Roter said the students’ efforts did yield some positive results.
“All of these efforts were not done in vain. We do have a foundation that has come forward and will help the students who are in financial need to help them transition,” Roter said in a Facebook post. “I am not at liberty to share all the details but, please know that your efforts have resulted in the ability for many of our students to get a new start.”
The historical college was founded in 1865 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and named after President Abraham Lincoln – the only institution to do so during his lifetime.
Gerlach said that despite its closing, Lincoln College has a proud legacy that will live on through the lives it touched.
“Though we are experiencing undeniable grief and sadness, we find comfort in knowing Lincoln College has served generations of alumni who have undoubtedly impacted our world,” Gerlach said.