Dana College has been a fixture in Blair for more than 125 years. A change of ownership was denied by the Higher Learning Commission, which means the college cannot be accredited and must shut down.
Some 600 students and 175 employees were notified by e-mail Wednesday night. While they try and cope with the sudden announcement, the impact runs deep in its city of 8,000.
A handful of students, mainly athletes, were packing up duffel bags on the campus Thursday. For former student body president and volleyball player Nicole Venditte, the shutdown just doesn't seem real. "I was one semester shy of graduating. So for me right now, I have no idea how the credits will transfer."
While the education major looks into other schools to finish her student teaching credits, her worries and those of her friends extend to the town they have grown to love.
Said Kali Brayfield, a graphic design major at Dana, "I think it's gonna be very sad for Blair. I know a lot of their economy does depend on Dana and the students and the money we spend."
Added Venditte, "I know how much I probably put into that, so, I can't imagine that times 600 is gonna be gone for them. So, yeah, it's going to hurt the entire community."
The total economic impact of the college is $27 million a year, according to the Chamber of Commerce. “The salaries, the students, tuition, the money that comes in, the money that goes out, the money that is spent on housing in our community,” explained Director Harriet Waite.
One college hangout, Fernando's Restaurant at 16th and Washington Street, is bracing for the impact. "I'm sure that without having the college activities going on and all of the staff and the students, I'm sure it's going to affect business,” said Manager Stefani Lawton.
That translates to a loss in sales tax revenue for the city, said Waite. And, the loss of student volunteers will also be devastating to local charities.
“Many of these students held part-time jobs while they were going to school,” she added. “I can’t imagine what some of those businesses will do without the students to fill those positions.”
As Lawton put it, "You can see there's a lot of hurt going on right now."
From downtown Blair back up to campus, which overlooks the city from its hill, uncertainty looms. "The crown jewel of our community,” said Waite, herself a Dana College alum. "And yesterday, the crown fell off."
Schools accepting transfers are listed here on the Dana College website.
Concordia will match scholarships and credits. Midland Lutheran in Fremont and U.N.O. offered to help seniors graduate on time. Still, students expressed concern over getting into their specific programs and how a wait could extend their schooling.