As the fall college term gets underway, some Upper Valley students are finding themselves in limbo. That’s because they had enrolled in New Hampshire’s Lebanon College, only to find out without warning that their school was closing.
The private community college in the heart of a revitalized business district stunned faculty and students last month. That’s when it posted a notice on its website regretting that it had to “minimize operations and cancel all Fall 2014 classes.” Chairman of the Board Arthur Gardiner says the decision was very painful, but after trustees were forced to dig into their pockets to make August payroll, the boom had to fall.
“Because we simply did not have the financial wherewithal to be sure that if we started classes we would be able to complete them through the fall term much less through the spring term,” Gardiner said. “So at Lebanon College we are out of gas.”
Gardiner concedes the school bought some expensive facilities before the recession hit, and has failed to attract enough students to balance the budget.
He is hopeful that community leaders and philanthropists can either give the downtown college a fresh start or bring another institution to the now vacant buildings on an in-town courtyard peppered with shops and restaurants.
Richard Wallace owns Omar and Bob’s, a sporting goods store opposite the shuttered college. He says he had heard there were fiscal challenges across the street.
“But I was quite surprised when they announced rather abruptly that they were closing,” he said.
And he hopes the school—or something—will re-open on the site. He says he’s not sure how big a hit local businesses will take now that the doors have closed.
Meanwhile students are scrambling to find comparable classes elsewhere. 35-year-old Vinnie diBernardo had hoped to start in the radiolography program this month. He says he knew Lebanon College was having financial trouble.
“But I guess I never thought it would come to this and I was reeling because I had put a year and a half into taking classes there,” diBernardo said.
Several neighboring schools would like to have students like him, but may not be able to offer what he needs now. River Valley Community College says it may be able to offer radiology a year from now, so he plans to wait and see, or, as a back-up, enter a nursing program next year.
If he were interested in a business degree, Franklin Pierce College could take him next week, when classes start at its Lebanon campus. Chris Audino is Director.
“We are certainly, I believe, a good option and we do have compatible programs primarily in business and management that would be a great option for students who are displaced at this point in time and looking for a school, or looking for that next step, and who feel maybe lost right now and figuring out what to do, where to go next,” Audino said.
But they don’t have much time to make those decisions, transfer credits, and re-organize their lives.
For Lebanon College itself, the clock is also ticking, and the front door is locked.
Lebanon College President Al Biron did not grant an interview but left a voicemail saying “there’s lot in the works but nothing to officially declare.”