Dear Dana College Faculty and Staff:
Yesterday was a sad day for Dana College. The news that the Higher Learning Commission Board had denied Dana’s request for approval of a change of control came as a shock and surprise to all of us. Our initial impression that the ruling was unfair and inaccurate remains in our minds. This decision has already disrupted your lives and that of Dana’s students, and as the days move on, the adverse effects will only escalate. We are saddened for all of you, and we regret the pain and suffering the HLC action will cause for the wonderful, 126-year-old Dana community.
We are writing, first and foremost, to thank you for your faith and trust in our mutual attempt to work together to guide Dana to a brighter future.
Many of you are likely wondering why HLC chose to take this direction. In truth, we do not know, though we believe the decision was strongly influenced by the climate in Washington, D.C. and the strong regulatory pressures placed on HLC during the past year. We would like to share with you, in Q&A form, some specifics about the issues described in HLC’s notice letter:
Why was the change of control denied?
We do not know why.
The change of control request was specifically written with the informal feedback received from HLC staff, as well as careful attention to HLC’s policies and procedures regarding changes in institutional control. We cannot conceive of any way in which the change of control request could have been any closer to the exact direction indicated by HLC staff.
We are especially disappointed because the centerpiece of the proposed change of control request stood squarely on growing Dana in a manner consistent with its mission and historical character. No changes relative to Dana’s current approvals were requested and no additional requests were made for HLC approval for additional degree programs, online programs, or additional locations. The Change of Control request was specific in noting that NO changes in Dana’s mission were asked for. In addition, the investors that were prepared to invest in Dana were willing to provide $10MM of funds to support Dana College, with nearly $5MM to be provided immediately and an additional $5MM over time to help support the college. This information was provided through a direct oral conversation between HLC and the investor as well as HLC in writing as part of the required change of control documents.
It appears the Commission doomed the institution by not giving it a chance. HLC substituted their own judgment for others by concluding that the proposed plan of growing student enrollments in a residential, face to face institution was doomed to failure before it could even be attempted.
It should also be noted that HLC’s own fact-finding team produced a very positive report, stating that Dana and DEC were “operating in good faith,” and that “if the plans articulated by the Dana Education Corporation come to fruition, the college will be much stronger.”
We made it clear to the Commission our intent to mark a serious, high-minded departure from some of the radical transformations of institutions seen in recent years. We intended for Dana to be a strong example of a responsible change of control, maintaining and improving the institution. Apparently, HLC has decided that there is no need for such an example.
Why was HLC wrong in citing governance concerns?
As we addressed extensively in our response to the summary report prepared by HLC staff, the governance structure proposed by DEC exceeds the standards employed by virtually all existing for-profit postsecondary institutions in terms of autonomy, including many not-for-profit and public institutions. First, the college governing board was to consist of a number of high profile leaders of integrity, including a former governor, a former university president, a dean of an Ivy League College, a former President of several community colleges, etc. In addition, the parent corporation had very limited, circumscribed approval rights – much more limited than any other for-profit institution currently accredited by HLC. Finally, many not-for-profit and public institutions are unable to make ultimate decisions – particularly regarding budgets and spending – without approval from a parent entity, be it the state, or in the case of Dana College, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Why was HLC wrong in citing a lack of previous experience in higher education on the part of DEC management?
As we addressed extensively in our response to the summary report prepared by HLC staff, since DEC had been planning to retain the senior leadership, faculty, and staff currently employed by Dana College, the new leadership team would have had the benefits of literally decades of experience in small, faith-based, residential colleges. In addition, the leadership of DEC has extensive experience in postsecondary education. In particular, DEC’s Chief Academic Officer has nearly 40 years experience leading postsecondary institutions.
Can Dana appeal the decision?
No. We have confirmed with legal counsel that there is no appeal process.
In addition to the points discussed above, we will make every attempt to respond to specific questions you may pose to us. As the proposed transaction has not been consummated and at this juncture will not be, the decisions regarding the closure of the College will be made by the existing Board of Regents and Administration. They have a difficult path ahead and need as much support as all of us are able to muster.
In closing, we wish you all Godspeed. You have touched our lives as you have touched the lives of countless others over the years, and we will treasure memories of our all-too-brief association. May you all fare well, and may our paths cross again.
Most Sincerely Yours,
Raj Kaji, C. Ronald Kimberling, Celia Ffrench, Eric Phillipson