Lincoln College in central Illinois to close Friday after last-minute hunt for wealthy ‘angel donor’ falls short

Blake Wiebe vacated his room at Lincoln College more than a week ago, but knowing he will never return means the sadness is fresh.
"Lincoln felt like home to me," said Weibe, a prospective junior, over the phone from his hometown of El Dorado, Kansas. “In such a short time I have made many good friends. Seeing everyone separately is tough. It's really."
The college, named after America's legendary president, is closing on Friday, about six weeks after a shock announcement that lower-than-expected enrollment would see the 157-year-old mostly black central Illinois institution shut without a $50 million infusion will.
Enrollment was already declining, but a ransomware attack that took place in December crippled the college's computer system and masked just how grim the picture had become, President David Gerlach told the Tribune last month.
Service was restored after the college paid a ransom that Gerlach said was less than six figures. At this point, the college determined that enrollments would remain flat instead of the modest increase that administrators had anticipated. The university could not continue financially with this, said Gerlach.
Gerlach did not respond to Tribune requests for comment on Thursday. In an internal email sent out in late April, he said he would no longer be giving interviews and urged college staff to remain silent as well.
Students and staff gathered to raise enough money to keep the school running, set up a GoFundMe page, asked for endowments, and hunted for a wealthy "angel donor." But in the end it was too much to increase in too short a time.
Many students have already agreed to transfer to other schools. Weibe, a swimmer, said he will be joining the team at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, a conference competitor.
"Our coach is good friends with (Cumberlands' coach)," he said. "That's how I found out about school."
Others are still weighing their options. Alexa Redd, a Lincoln, Illinois native who just finished her freshman year of college, said Lincoln College staff helped her get accepted into several schools and that she will make up her mind after this summer's campus visits .
Personal disruption aside, she worried about her hometown of 13,500. Lincoln College is one of Lincoln's largest employers, and the students it attracted from other parts of the state, country and world gave the city a diversity it is now losing, she said.
"Lincoln College is the only thing people had that wasn't Lincolnized," she said. "Now that it's gone, the whole town isn't going where it needs to be."
The city recently saw another local college, Lincoln Christian University, announce plans to sell much of its campus to a church. But Mayor Tracy Welch said it's too early to say how the losses will affect his city.
"I'm optimistic that those who were employed will be able to find other jobs," he said. “The one thing we cannot replace is the student population and their patronage of our local businesses, particularly those closer to college. We are aware that there will be some impact; we cannot (estimate) the extent of this at this time.”
The story goes on

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