Lebanon College To Close; School Cancels Fall Classes

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Lebanon — Following years of economic turmoil, Lebanon College has canceled all of its classes for the upcoming fall semester in what is likely “the first step towards closing” the school, President Ron Biron said in an email Monday evening.

“Without a substantive increase in enrollment across the board and particularly in the areas of our allied health programs and certificates, we feel this is the first step towards closing Lebanon College,” Biron said in the email. “It truly is disappointing to our entire team (who have) worked on creating an academic culture that is student-centered while adding value to local New Hampshire and Vermont employers. Ultimately, the response was not there!”

In a news release, Arthur Gardiner, the chairman of the college’s board of trustees, said that while the board had “looked forward expectantly to a big jump in enrollment this fall,” the numbers didn’t pan out, and fewer than half of the anticipated enrollees signed up.

“Lebanon College has been an important asset in the Upper Valley for over fifty years,” Gardiner said in the release. “We are distressed that we have no other option.”

Biron emailed the news release to the Valley News Monday evening in response to a reporter’s questions regarding the school’s website, www.lebanoncollege.edu, which was essentially taken down on Monday afternoon and replaced with a short message announcing the cancellation of classes, which were to begin next Monday.

Biron, who took the post of president in fall 2012, said the website changes were made after notification was sent to teachers and students, including 53 full-time students, 18 of whom were to be new to the college this fall.

Phone messages left at Gardiner’s home and office Monday evening were not returned.

According to the release, the college’s focus has turned to “(working) with current students to make arrangements to complete their courses of study” and “working with (the college’s) senior lender to discuss options for the future.”

The junior college has found itself in economic hardship , which was compounded by the purchase of the 5,100-square-foot former Shoetorium space in the Lebanon Mall in 2008 for $725,000.

The college currently has about $2.2 million in debt involving both of its buildings on the pedestrian mall, Biron said in the email Monday night. He said discussions with the senior lender will include options regarding the real estate.

Officials in the release noted several of the college’s achievements in recent years, including reaccreditation, adjusting the terms of the college’ s debt “to reduce drain on cash flow by $50,000 a year,” removing under-enrolled degrees from the program and engaging in discussions with area employers to evaluate “what educational offerings will help students achieve meaningful, well-paying jobs.”

The school awarded associate’s degrees to 26 students in May, when Gardiner spoke of the school’s fundraising goals and the $750,000 that has been raised in the previous year and a half.

“We look forward to a bright future,” Gardiner said of the school’s accomplishments since Biron became president.

Lebanon City Manager Greg Lewis said Biron met with him last week to discuss the school’s financial troubles.

“He briefed me that they were having some challenges that looked pretty significant, and his board was going to meet on Saturday to consider their options,” Lewis said.

Lewis asked the city’s grants coordinator, Shelley Hadfield, to see if there were any potential grant sources to help bail out the college, but she “couldn’t find a logical fit through that window between Tuesday and Friday.”

The City Council last fall had signed off on a proposal that would have allowed Lebanon College to apply for a matching $300,000 federal community development block grant to help establish a health education center at the former Shoetorium space, but the private college couldn’t finalize the application because the grant required creating one new job for every $20,000 in funds provided, Hadfield said.

Lebanon College was trying to establish a School of Allied Health to include both existing programs in radiology and medical coding, and new training in such fields as surgical technicians and medical assistants.

“It didn’t work out with the business partner they were trying to make that happen with. Unfortunately, that meant they couldn’t apply for the funds,” Hadfield said.

“They have been trying actively for the past year to get this ... program up and running, and it sounds like they have run out of time,” Hadfield said. “It’s tough, it’s very sad.”

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who co-owns the Lebanon Diner on the Mall, across from Lebanon College, said the college generates traffic from its employees and students, and through its educational courses “has served a valuable role in the community for quite some time.”

But she said the cancellation of classes was “not a complete surprise,” given the college’s financial struggles in recent years.

“It’s always sad to see an enterprise close its doors. Unfortunately, that’s the reality, whether it’s a small business or a small college. That’s the tough choices that have to be made,” Liot Hill said.

Her colleague on the city council, Carol Dustin, said she was “astonished” by the announcement, in part because Biron had in May made a presentation to the Heritage Commission about expansion plans into the former Shoetorium spot.

“He sounded as though they were moving right ahead and expanding. He sounded quite positive,” Dustin said.

Staff writer John P. Gregg contributed to this report.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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