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The 1918 flu pandemic could not bring down Lincoln College. Neither did the Great Depression or World War II. It survived a major fire and economic difficulties. But the college closes permanently on Friday – victim of two modern scourges: the COVID-19 pandemic and a cyberattack.
It’s a shocking turnaround for the small private school in Illinois that has enrolled thousands of first-generation students and qualified for federal recognition as a predominantly black institution, or PBI.
“Lincoln College has served students from around the world for more than 157 years,” college president David Gerlach said in a statement posted on the school’s website. “The loss of history, careers and a community of students and alumni is immense.”
Students, alumni and staff mourn decision
“There were tears” when the college’s board of trustees voted to close the institution, administrator Kathryn Harris told Illinois State University member station WGLT.
“It’s painful for the faculty, certainly for the students, for the alumni, for the city of Lincoln and for the county of Logan,” Harris said. “I’m especially saddened by this because … for many students, especially black students, are the first in their families to go to college. I’m proud for them … but for students who only have one more semester – wow, that’s painful.”
The decision to close was announced in late March, when Gerlach told students that the college would stop operating after the end of the spring term. Current and former students said they felt caught off guard by the school, which offered them an opportunity and a safe haven in uncertain circumstances.
“All of this campus just can’t be wasted. It’s too much needed,” Arielle Williams, a recent graduate from Chicago and president of Lincoln’s Black Student Union, told WGLT in April. “I don’t think people understand what this is going to do to a generation of students.”
Lincoln was booming. Then COVID-19 and a cyberattack hit
Lincoln College saw record enrollment in fall 2019, filling its dorms. But the pandemic hit months later, disrupting campus life and limiting the school’s ability to raise funds and recruit new students. COVID-19 has forced the school to shell out money for new technology and security measures, at a time when it has seen a significant drop in enrollment as students take time off from college careers.
Then, in December 2021, a ransomware attack hit that “thwarted admissions activities and impeded access to all institutional data,” the college said.
Cyber attack blocked crucial data that the college uses to project its academic and economic future. When he finally regained access to his computer systems in March, the news was dire: Fall enrollment of about 630 full-time students would not be enough to bolster his accounts. It would take a “donation or a transformational partnership” to keep the school going through the summer, he said.
The ransomware attack originated in Iran, Gerlach said. The school paid less than $100,000 to restore its systems, he told the Chicago Grandstand. But the college would need a lot more money — up to $53 million, Gerlach said in an interview with WGLT — to ensure its long-term survival.
Cyberattacks repeatedly target US schools
At least 14 US colleges or universities and nine school districts have been hit by ransomware requests so far in 2022, according to Brett Callow, threat analyst at Emsisoft, a New Zealand-based cybersecurity firm. Data was stolen in 13 of the 23 cases.
Callow says hackers tailor their ransom demands to each victim.
“The amount requested by attackers varies wildly depending on the organization they hit,” Callow said. “They usually have access to the organization’s financial data – they will know if the coverage includes cyber insurance, for example, and what the coverage limits are.”
In each of the past two years, ransomware has affected more than 80 educational organizations, Callow told NPR. In 2021, this included 62 school districts and 26 colleges and universities.
When asked why the education sector seems particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, Callow replies that many school districts and colleges are facing such security challenges for the first time.
“School districts basically have to design their own security networks, and you see these very small districts with barely any IT experience” trying to strategize — and pay for — measures like quarterly penetration testing and monitoring. network 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The widespread threat has made insurance itself a burden: A public school district in Bloomington, about 30 miles northeast of Lincoln, recently saw the price of its cyber insurance skyrocket from 6 $661 to $22,229.
A small town loses a local institution
Lincoln College was established in 1865 and is named after Abraham Lincoln. It is located in the small town of Lincoln, with a population of around 13,300, according to the US Census Bureau.
Over the past decade, Lincoln has evolved from a junior college to returning to its roots as a four-year institution. He played a prominent role in his local community, fielding sports teams and operating student-run radio and television stations. But a fundraising campaign to help the school fell far short of its $20 million goal.
With its closure looming, Lincoln College has dedicated its website to answering the many questions its students, alumni, and staff now face. It also strives to provide transcripts and transfer information, to help them document the work they do in school.
At its final commencement ceremony last week, Lincoln awarded associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees to 235 students.