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Northland employees and alumni seek more time to raise funds as college faces closure

Northland Board of Trustees says the college is far from the $12M needed to avoid closure

Northland College
An aerial view of the Northland College campus on Oct. 9, 2019. Photo courtesy of Northland College

Members of the Northland College community are asking leaders for more time to raise the $12 million needed to prevent the private environmental college in Ashland from closing its doors.

On March 12, college leaders announced the campus needed to raise the money by April 3 to keep the school open. According to their statement, an audit completed in February revealed the college didn’t have enough resources to continue operating without an influx of cash.

Since then, multiple fundraising efforts have been initiated by Northland officials, alumni and the Ashland community.

Angela Stroud, an associate professor of sociology at Northland, said the timeline is unfair and unreasonable.

“I think we deserve the right to see what we can get done in six months,” Stroud said.

The appeal for more time comes as the Northland Board of Trustees said in a message Tuesday that board members are speaking with major donors, but the college is still far from its $12 million goal. Ted Bristol, chair of Northland’s board, said the fundraising deadline ensures that current and incoming students will have enough time to transition if the college closes.

“We would not want to begin a new academic year without knowing for certain we had the funds in place to fully complete it,” Bristol said in a statement.

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Northland College
A view of the Northland campus on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo courtesy of Northland College

College and community members draft path forward

In the last week, staff and faculty have held listening sessions with 200 college and community members to brainstorm ways to keep the 132-year-old school from shuttering. Stroud is among a team that’s drafted a plan to increase revenue, decrease expenses and expand the reach of the school.

The initiative is dubbed True Northland. Stroud said the group envisions a future where the school’s operations would focus on the college and its research centers, community housing and an ideas hub. As part of that, Northland would cut employees, reduce the number of students from roughly 500 to 350 on campus, and generate revenue by renting out residential halls and office space.

As the world grapples with climate change and inequities, Stroud argues the college has never been more relevant.

“At Northland, the purpose of our institution is to face climate change and social injustice and to look for solutions,” Stroud said.

Bristol said the board is open to all ideas that include strategies to address the college’s enrollment or “creative use” of its facilities.

Many small liberal arts colleges across the nation are struggling due to decreasing financial support, rising costs and declining enrollment. National education statistics show Northland has fluctuated between 500 and 600 students in the past decade. Tax filings show the school has been operating in the red since 2016, reporting a loss of nearly $3.2 million by mid-2022. 

Northland President Chad Dayton told WPR’s “Simply Superior” that declining enrollment and increased costs forced the college to rely on its endowment to support operations. The college’s endowment has fallen from a high of roughly $25 million in 2015 to $6.2 million in 2022.

Northland College
A group of Northland students cross campus at the start of the academic year on Sept. 9, 2022. Photo courtesy of Northland College

Northland alumni take alternative track to raise funds

Some former students have formed the group Northland Forever to help raise funds. Kaelin Hall, the group’s spokesperson, said it’s accepting pledges until the group obtains nonprofit status. Northland Forever formed after community members and alumni voiced frustration over a lack of information from the college.

“We heard from a lot of other alumni that they were hesitant to donate because they didn’t want to just give money for the school to shut down,” Hall said.

Hall, who graduated from Northland in 2020, said the group has been organizing outreach campaigns to celebrities and environmental advocates, hoping to raise awareness of the school’s plight.

So far, alumni have pledged $114,000 to the group.

As the April 3 deadline looms, the city of Ashland held a party and fundraiser for Northland on Friday. Ashland Mayor Matt MacKenzie said around 3,000 people attended in the community of nearly 8,000 residents.

MacKenzie said the college and the city are intertwined.

“It brings a lot to our community, and in many ways other than just economically, culturally, you name it,” MacKenzie said. “I don’t want to imagine Ashland without Northland College. Unfortunately, it may get to that. We’re hopeful that it doesn’t.”

Northland College
Northland students gather on the shore of Lake Superior on June 15, 2022. Phot courtesy of Northland College

Current students express shock and hope for Northland’s future

Northland junior Kelby Youngberg was caught off guard by the college’s announcement and is now weighing whether to transfer to another school.

“I really, really do not want to leave,” Youngberg said. “That feels just too hard for me to think about.”

Chloe Wiles, a Northland senior, said most people felt powerless when the college announced its urgent fundraising appeal. Since then, students have been posting videos on social media of staff, students and alumni. They hope people will see them and donate.

“We really want to bring a voice to everybody right now,” Wiles said. “As well as just being an entity that people can see and realize that an environmental liberal arts education is worth fighting for.”