College Drops Out

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elmo Benjamin moved across the country from the sprawl of Southern California looking for peace. He found it at Atlantic Union College, a tight-knit Seventh-day Adventist school framed by hills and orchards in the Central Massachusetts town of Lancaster. “The air was clean, there wasn’t much crime, there were ponds to fish in - it was a paradise,’’ he said. At 47, he delved into a theology major. His wife, Lana, found a job as a financial aid adviser at the college.


Then, suddenly, there was no college.


On July 31, Atlantic Union laid off almost all of its 120 employees, told its 450 students there would be no classes this year, and shut down.


The school’s finances had been shaky for years. It had a legacy of bureaucratic bungling and misunderstandings with state and regional higher education authorities, and it had spent the last decade on and off probation with its accrediting body. “I came in knowing that the school was in very precarious shape,’’ said Norman Wendth, its president from 2007 until July. “I knew there was a good chance my job would be to close it with dignity.’’


Still, the demise of the 129-year-old campus left many students in shock.

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