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Students caught off guard by closure; other universities stepping up to help them.

PHOTO: ANDIE PETKUS - An awards gala and scholarship fundraiser for Concordia University  was held just days before the college announced its planned closure. Pictured here: Interim President, Rev. Tom Ries, award recipient Swati Adarkar, rapper, poet, activist and keynote speaker Common, and event emcee Kimberely Dixon.On Tuesday, Feb. 4, rapper and actor Common was the keynote speaker at a Concordia University awards gala and fundraiser in Portland that brought in $355,000.

Three days later, college officials voted to shut the school down.

The university announced Monday, Feb. 10, that the graduation ceremonies planned this spring would be its last.

Citing financial troubles and projected enrollment numbers that couldn't sustain the private, nonprofit Christian university, Concordia issued a statement saying it would cease operations as of spring 2020.

Despite that, the college announced via a public relations firm on Feb. 6 that it raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money the week prior, and the college says it will continue to accept donations through the rest of the academic year.

The university declined to comment on questions about the money raised during the ninth annual Atiyeh Leadership in Education Awards gala, or what Common's appearance fees were, if any. The event was sponsored by other organizations, like HotChalk and Stoel Rives law firm, a press release notes.

A media rep for Concordia instead referred financial questions to the college's foundation, which didn't immediately respond.

The awards gala is named after former Oregon Gov. Victor Atiyeh.

On its website, Concordia indicated that the $355,000 raised on Feb. 4 would go "to support scholarships for students in the 2019-20 academic year and the 3toPhD program."

The 3 to PhD program is a partnership with Portland Public Schools, Trillium Family Services, Kaiser Permanente and Basics Market. It puts Concordia and other college-level students seeking teaching credentials inside Faubion School, which serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Students benefit from wrap-around services to support them on their journey from elementary school, all the way to college, said Jonathan Garcia, PPS's chief engagement officer and co-chair of the 3 to PhD program.

"The idea is that the professors of higher ed are working in collaboration with our teachers at Faubion to improve instruction and pedagogy," Garcia explained. "The whole idea was to embed them inside the building."

Concordia describes the program as an "integrated, immersive learning partnership" that seeks to close gaps in access for children and families.

Concordia has played a key role in Faubion School.

"The Faubion School, when it was rebuilt, it was built with Concordia as a partner," Garcia said.

The university has offices and classrooms spread throughout the campus.

Garcia indicated the school district is still in the early stages of collaborating with Concordia and other program partners on a contingency plan.

Despite the close working relationship, Faubion and PPS say the PK-8 school will continue operating as usual, and school officials are working to try to ensure no student services are lost.

As for the fundraising? It's unclear how the money from the gala will be distributed.

"I think it's too early to tell," Garcia said when asked how much, if any of the $355,000, would go to the 3 to PhD program.

PM PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Concordia University abruptly announced that it would be shut down, catching students by surprse.

Concordia noted that donations to the nonprofit university will still be accepted as the school prepares to shut down, to support "ongoing costs for students, faculty and staff related to the closure process."

Students blindsided by decision

Concordia students say they were caught off guard by the news of their school's planned shut-down.

"They had sent an email that I received at about 6:30 that morning saying that there was an urgent meeting at 10:00 a.m. and that classes were cancelled for the day," Jordan Ranum, a business major at the college, said of the message sent to students Monday morning.

But like many of his peers, Ranum found out about his school's closure not from the school, but from news reports.

"I was still sleeping and when I woke up, I didn't instantly check my email, so I had no idea a meeting was even happening. And then a little before 10:30, I'm scrolling through Facebook and I see a news story about it," Ranum said.

The message from the university to students didn't mention that the school was closing.

Ranum is fortunate: He's on track to finish school this spring and to get his business degree. But others aren't so lucky.

Thousands of students are now scrambling to figure out how to complete their degrees elsewhere.

Other schools step up

Other universities jumped at the chance to recruit Concordia's current students.

Portland State University said it would work with students to look over their transcripts and to get them enrolled at the state college.

Fellow Christian college Corban University in Salem also invited students to apply, noting a record number of transfer students in 2019.

On Thursday, Feb. 13, Western Oregon University in Monmouth also jumped into the fray. "Any current undergraduate or graduate Concordia student who can show current attendance, and any student admitted for fall 2020 who can provide a Concordia acceptance letter will be automatically admitted to WOU after completing the application," the university announced. "Any undergraduate student transferring from Concordia or who had been accepted for fall 2020 admission to Concordia will receive at least $1,000 toward WOU tuition."

In Newberg, officials with George Fox University, another private Christian school, announced a free, expedited application process, as well as a $5,000 grant available to current Concordia students wishing to transfer into the school's undergraduate program. Multnomah University, another private college, also dangled scholarships ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 for transfer students.

Rob Felton, a spokesman at George Fox, said university officials at his campus were shocked at the news and first mistook the announcement as a joke.

"I thought it was a cruel April Fools' joke when I read the news," Felton stated. "Most colleges are doing some belt tightening these days, but I haven't talked to anyone who wasn't shocked by this."

One former student said she now questions the value of her degree as currency in the workforce.

"As a 2019 alumni and former student athlete, I know my degree is valid and won't be affected. However, it's still concerning considering future employers will see that I went to a university that is no longer existing," Ali Steen said Tuesday. "To me, it feels like it's worth less than before."

The closure will affect the university's more than 6,000 students and 400 faculty and staff.

"My favorite professors are a husband and wife with two kids. What now?" Steen added.

Ranum and Steen both say the decision was brash, and made without concern for students.

"You don't care about students, if you did, we wouldn't have found out through news media," Ranum said via Twitter in a response to the school's announcement of its closing.

This story has been updated with new information explaining the relationship between Faubion School and Concordia, and adding reactions from other colleges and universities.

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