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130 year-old Alaska college to suspend operations for one year


A 130-year-old college in Sitka is suspending academic operations for one year because it is about $6 million in debt, a choice made by its Board of Trustees.

Sheldon Jackson College, a Presbyterian school on Baranof Island, plans to consult with state government, community and educational leaders to figure out how regain solvency, according to a statement released by the school on Friday.

“Sheldon Jackson is not closing, but it is no secret that we are asset rich and cash poor,” said College President David Dobler. “We simply do not have the cash to sustain Sheldon Jackson College in its current form.”

He noted that the school has an insured value of more than $35 million, plus dozens of acres of undeveloped real estate in Sitka.

Dobler said the trustees believe the four-year liberal arts college cannot restructure itself financially while continuing to operate.

He has told the college’s 100 faculty and staff members that June 30 will be their last day of work.

Jeffrey Hole, 23, who had expected to earn a degree in elementary education next year, said news of the closing hit the close-knit college community hard.

“I’ve never seen teachers cry before and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry myself,” Hole said in a phone call from Sitka. “It felt depressing and confusing.”

Sheldon Jackson plans to assist its 100 students in transferring to other schools, said Shirley J. Holloway, Chair of the SJC Trustees and former State of Alaska Education Commissioner.

Dobler and Chief Financial Officer James Sharpe will keep their jobs.

They plan to rehire a small number of staff to maintain the schools fish hatchery, childcare center and food service.

A number of summer programs will also be completed, school officials said in the statement.

Sheldon Jackson College is the oldest educational institution in continuous existence in Alaska. It was founded in 1878 when Presbyterian missionaries opened a training school for Tlingit Indians in an old military barracks.

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