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'I'm so close to being done': Lincoln College students are left to figure out what comes next

Lincoln College will close its doors for good in May.
Chung Sung-Jun
Getty Images
Lincoln College will close its doors for good in May.

The announcement on Wednesday that Lincoln College will close permanently at the end of the spring semester came as a shock to students.

Katie Bishop, who is halfway through a major in organizational leadership, just spoke to her academic adviser last week. They’d discussed an anticipated graduation date and enrolled Bishop in summer classes.

When news broke that Lincoln College will shutter in May, Bishop couldn’t believe it.

“I didn’t get a notification at all. I found out from someone who saw it on Facebook on the WGLT article. And so, I didn't believe it was true. I thought that my husband had misread the article,” she said.

When news broke that Lincoln College will shutter in May, Katie Bishop couldn’t believe it.
WGLT file
When news broke that Lincoln College will shutter in May, Katie Bishop couldn’t believe it.

Bishop didn’t receive any communication from Lincoln College until Thursday, when she received an email from her lead adviser. According to the email, Bishop said, advisers had also just learned of the closure and had no insight into any plans to assist students.

Bishop said she has a lot of questions. “How do I transfer? What schools have the same program? Will they take my credits?”

Bishop said her organizational leadership major, which she hopes to use to help farmers like herself, isn’t a traditional business degree. She worries that she won’t be able to find a similar program — especially one that fits her schedule.

“So, trying to find an online format, preferably accelerated, that will take all of my classes as credits and not delay my graduation date — it sounds like a really long list of things that I want. But I had I known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have enrolled in Lincoln last year,” she said.

While Bishop expects the college to assist her in figuring out next steps, she realizes that her advisers are navigating the same uncertainty. “I just feel really bad because my advisors just lost their jobs. And they're dealing with all different types of emotions. And so, it's hard to put pressure on them and say, 'Hey, what's next?”

Close to the finish line

Kendra Neuhaus also is wondering what comes next. After she completes the current semester, Neuhaus will be four classes short of her degree. She was planning to finish up over the summer. But then came the announcement, and Neuhaus said she burst into tears.

“The light at the end of the tunnel was so bright and immediately was blown out. Like, it was immediate darkness,” Neuhaus said. “I’m so close to being done.”

Neuhaus is researching schools that will accept her credits and allow her to complete her degree, although she accepts that she may not be able to graduate in the fall as planned. She’s also facing the “double whammy” of helping her daughter, also a Lincoln student, find alternative programs.

“She’s a little overwhelmed,” Neuhaus said of her daughter. “School does not come easily to her.”

Finding the right fit is important, Neuhaus explained, because her daughter tried a semester at Illinois State University, but didn’t like the large class sizes. Lincoln’s smaller classes allowed for the personal touch from instructors that her daughter needs, Neuhaus said.

Jackie Gunderson
Jackie Gunderson is enrolled in Lincoln College's ABE program.

The college also is a good fit for Neuhaus, who depends on the flexible scheduling. “Having the night classes and being able to work on this education while working full time and being a full-time student — it was the perfect fit. Neuhaus works as an analyst for State Farm and said so many of her coworkers were able to pursue degrees because of Lincoln College. “And taking this away? It's going to affect the society around us,” she said.

Jackie Gunderson worries about the broader impact of the school’s closure, too. Gunderson, a procurement manager for ISU and former Bloomington mayoral candidate, is a first-generation college graduate. She’ll collect her degree from Lincoln College this spring and says that may not have been possible without the school’s ABE program.

The acronym stands for Accelerated Bridge to Education and is advertised by the college as the most flexible and affordable in central Illinois.

“Those programs are specifically designed for people who are working full time,” Gunderson said. “And it makes it accessible for people like me — people with families, people with jobs — to complete it even while doing all these other things that life requires when you're an adult learner.”

Gunderson said Lincoln’s closure has far-reaching implications for accessibility in education. And she worries that it will disrupt the momentum of students who have worked hard to overcome the obstacles to higher education.

“I think it will really put a halt to some of these students’ journeys to return to school. Because I don't know that there's anything else accessible to them, currently, that's going to let them do this and maintain all of the other things that they're balancing in life," she said.

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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