Good News about Dana College

Lincoln -- Midland University in Fremont, according to newspaper reports, is about to take over the campus of defunct Dana College in Blair. If this happens, it will be a wonderful development for higher education in Nebraska and the country.

Midland would be well-advised to retain some of the tradition of Dana. Dana College was a small liberal arts college that preserved the Danish heritage in Nebraska and the region. When in the United States, Danish royalty sometimes visited. Dana was a fine institution for students who wanted a small college experience. It was good for the local economy. Dana had many distinguished alumni, including former U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois.

Dana closed in 2010 as a result of weak financial fundamentals exacerbated by the Great Recession. The governing board tried to sell it to a for-profit college, which wanted to buy its accreditation as much as its campus, but the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the regional accrediting organization balked and would not approve such a transfer.

This was the first time the HLC stood up against this unseemly practice and its action got national attention, including attention from the U.S. Senate, which just months earlier in hearings had questioned the HLC's lack of backbone in upholding higher education standards.

According to news reports at the time, Nebraska Governor Heineman and Attorney General Bruning made an attempt to overturn the HLC's rejection of the for-profit company's attempt to obtain Dana's accreditation. If true, that was misguided. The for-profit company was co-led by C. Ronald Kimberling, whom news reports touted as having thirty-five years of experience in higher education. Inexplicably, Nebraska newspapers did not note that nearly all of the experience was troubled. When Kimberling was an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan Administration, his office was associated with malfeasance that was condemned in the U.S. Senate's Nunn Committee hearings over Abuses in Federal Student Aid Programs. Kimberling then went on to Phillips Colleges, which were constantly in trouble with the Department of Education's program reviewers. He then went to Argosy University, which has been investigated by the Government Accountability Office and featured in many exposés, including those by Frontline and the New York Times.

If I were a Dana alumnus, I would not want my degree sullied by sale of my college's name or accreditation to the likes of such a company. It is much better if Midland can step in and rescue not only the Dana campus but also preserve the Dana legacy and reputation.

There is another reason to hope for success for Midland and Dana. The state and country need independent colleges to complement public institutions. Not all of a nation's higher education teaching and research should be under governmental authorities that could exercise undue control. The lesson of Germany in the 1930s is instructive. Faculties free to oppose interference and totalitarianism whether from the right or left should be nurtured as part of a strong higher education system. Some believe that the Second Amendment is the ultimate safeguard; I believe thriving colleges with strong faculties, reviewed periodically by honest accreditors, are a more likely bulwark.