Lincoln College in Central Illinois to Close Friday After Last-Minute Search Fails for a Wealthy ‘Angel Donor’ – Chicago Tribune

Blake Wiebe packed his room at Lincoln College over a week ago, but knowing he’ll never come back means Grief is still fresh.

“Lincoln felt like home to me,” Webby, a junior, said by phone from his hometown of El Dorado, Kansas. “In such a short time, I’ve made so many good friends. It’s hard to see everyone separated. He really is.”

The college named after America’s legendary president will close Friday, about six weeks after a shocking announcement that lower-than-expected enrollment would shutter the 157-year-old, predominantly black institution in central Illinois without injecting $50 million.

Recording was already trending downward, but a ransomware attack in December disrupted the college’s computer system and obscured just how horrific the image was, President David Gerlach told the Tribune newspaper last month.

Service was restored after the college paid a ransom that Gerlach said was less than six figures. That’s when the college discovered that instead of the modest increase officials were counting on, enrollment would remain flat. That would not allow the college to continue financially, Gerlach said.

Gerlach did not respond to Tribune requests for comment Thursday. In an internal email sent in late April, he said he would not be conducting any further interviews and asked college staff to remain silent as well.

Students and staff rallied to try to raise enough money to keep the school going, creating a GoFundMe page, petitioning foundations and searching for a wealthy “angel donor.” But in the end, the amount was too great to be collected in a very short time.

Many students have already arranged to transfer to other schools. Webby, a swimmer, said he would join the team at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, a competitor in the conference.

“Our coach is a good friend (the Cumberlands coach),” he said. “That’s how I learned about school.”

Still others are weighing their options. Alexa Reade, a Lincoln, Illinois resident, who just finished her first year at college, said Lincoln College staff helped her get her accepted into several schools, and that she’ll make up her mind after campus visits this summer.

Aside from the personal turmoil, she was concerned for her hometown of 13,500. Lincoln College is one of Lincoln’s largest employers, and the students it has attracted from other parts of the state, country, and world gave the city a diversity that it will now lose, she said.

“Lincoln College is the only thing that people have that wasn’t Lincoln,” she said. “Now that it’s gone, the whole town isn’t going where it should go.”

The city recently saw another local college, Lincoln Christian University, announce plans to sell a large portion of its campus to the church. But Mayor Tracy Welch said it was too early to tell how the losses would affect his town.

“I am optimistic that those who have been employed will be able to find other jobs,” he said. “The only thing we can’t replace is the number of students and their sponsorship of our local businesses, especially those closest to the college. We know there will be some impact. We cannot (estimate) the scale of that at this time.”

Similarly, Welch said he was not aware of confirmed plans for what would become the Lincoln College campus, although Gerlach previously told the Tribune he hoped it would house another educational institution.

Lincoln joins 27 other Illinois colleges, campuses and career schools that have closed in recent years, in a reflection of what experts say is a rethinking of the financial benefits offered by schools that aren’t elite institutions.

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