CINCINNATI – An Ohio liberal arts college that closed three years ago amid financial problems is preparing for its comeback, and officials and students are optimistic about reviving the school’s long heritage of combining academic learning with work experience and social activism.
Antioch College, the alma mater of Coretta Scott King, “Twilight Zone”’ creator Rod Serling and two Nobel Prize winners, is reopening in a little more than a week in Yellow Springs, about 60 miles north of Cincinnati. The school began welcoming its freshman class of 35 students this weekend with orientation activities leading up to the start of classes Oct. 4.
Antioch officials and students hope the school, which had more than 2,000 students enrolled at its peak in 1972, can grow to include hundreds of students.
The college, which had been the flagship campus of Antioch University, closed in 2008 amid financial difficulties linked to declining enrollment, a heavy dependence on tuition and a small endowment. An alumni group purchased the campus and other college assets from the university in 2009 for $6 million and began rebuilding it as an independent college.
“It is an unusual startup at a time when liberal arts colleges aren’t starting, and more are closing,” said Antioch President Mark Roosevelt, a former Massachusetts state legislator and superintendent of Pittsburgh public schools. “We are swimming against the tide in that sense, but it’s not as if we are starting from scratch.”
The college dates to the early 1850s and is known for its pioneering academic and cooperative education programs and social activism that included anti-war protests and civil disobedience in the 1960s. Antioch’s heritage is one of the attractions for students like Megan Miller and James Russell.
“I think it will be unlike any other college experience I could have,” Miller, 19, of Yellow Springs, said. “Antioch’s approach to education allows people to develop more.”
Attending Antioch has been a dream of Russell’s since he read a book a few years ago about colleges that have changed lives.
“As soon as I read the first few sentences, I decided I was going to Antioch,” said Russell, 23, of Fort Worth, Texas.
As part of Antioch’s bachelor’s degree programs in arts and science, students must design individualized majors with faculty assistance and complete six terms of full-time work, with the final assignment abroad or in a multicultural setting requiring skills gained in a language minor. Antioch also will require students to attend seminars on critical global issues including energy, food, water, health and public policy.
“We hope to inspire in our students the desire to accumulate skills and the capacity to go out and make a difference on these issues,” said Roosevelt, the president.
Freshman Brendon Deal, 20, of Yellow Springs, has been watching the new college take shape and is impressed.
“It’s not going to be one of those dull, factory-type colleges,” said Deal. He realizes Antioch’s survival is not assured, but says he believes in “taking risks to better myself and the world. Whatever happens, I will gain knowledge and experience.”
Another incentive for these first freshmen from more than a dozen states and Afghanistan is that their four-year tuition will be covered by the Horace Mann Fellowship, named for the college’s first president. In return, they will have the responsibility of helping shape the future of the college, Roosevelt said.
“They will be partners in this enterprise,” he said.