Historically Black Lincoln College in Illinois is closing its doors after 157 years — unable to survive a financial crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and a recent cyberattack.
The college announced its decision to cease operations in late March following the close of the spring semester. It held its commencement ceremony last week.
“Lincoln College has been serving students from across the globe for more than 157 years,” said president David Gerlach in a statement. “The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense.”
Lincoln’s demise was sudden. The college was enjoying a record high enrollement for the 2019-2020 school year when the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic shut down in-person operations and scattered students. Enrolment fell significantly in the following years, as it did at many colleges and universities across the country, while the college had to invest in its technological systems to meet pandemic-era needs.
The final straw came in December of last year, when the college was the victim of a devastating cyberattack that originiated in Iran and blocked the school from accessing its institutional data. Its fundraising and recruiting activities were largely halted.
“All systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts were inoperable,” a Lincoln College statement said.
Mr Gerlach told the Chicago Tribune that the college paid less than $100,000 to restore its systems, but with enrolment tracking down again, he said that the college needed $50m or a partnership with another institution to stay open. Despite the best efforts of many of its community members, they didn’t get either.
The closure of the college will leave a sizable hole to fill in the Lincoln community, a small town named for the former president of just more than 13,000 people outside of the state capital of Springfield in central Illinois.
“That whole campus just can’t go to waste. It’s too necessary,” Arielle Williams, a recent graduate who served as president of Lincoln’s Black Student Union, told NPR station WGLT in April. “I don’t think people are understanding what this is going to do to a generation of students.”
Lincoln College is not the only small college to announce its closure in recent months. Historic all-women’s Mills College in Oakland announced plans to close last year before it reached an agreement to merge with Northeastern University in Boston. MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois announced its closure in 2020.
Cyberattacks, which are increasingly targeting US institutions of higher learning, are not helping matters. At least 14 colleges and universities have been targeted by cyberattacks already in 2022, increasing costs for cybersecurity and insurance.
Graduates of Lincoln College include former Republican congressman Ed Madigan, as well as 2021 World Series-winning manager Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves. The college also hosts the Lincoln Heritage Museum, a collection of artifacts that tell the story of the life of the nation’s sixteenth president and his family. The museum will remain open after the closure of the college.