Sheldon Jackson to close for a year

Sitka college cites financial troubles

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007

Alaska's oldest educational institution announced a year-long closure late Friday.

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"We simply do not have the cash to sustain Sheldon Jackson College in its current form," said David Dobler, SJC president.

According to the announcement, SJC was failing financially with $6 million in accrued debt.

Faculty and staff in Sitka were told that Saturday would be their last day of work.

The college expected to make its July 5 payroll.

One hundred students have yet to be notified of the year-long closure.

Dobler said the school is not closing permanently.

"It is no secret that we are asset rich and cash poor," he said.

The college holds an estimated insured value of $35 million, and it owns undeveloped real-estate in Sitka, Dobler said.

The 130-year-old school started as a training school for Tlingit Indians in 1878. Later in the 19th century the school was developed into an elementary school. The institution gained most of its current title after its namesake, Sheldon Jackson, died in 1910.

In 1966 SJC was accredited as a college.

"Everyone knows there are huge needs and gaps in the higher education system in Alaska, particularly for Alaska Natives," Shirley Holloway, chair of SJC trustees.

Holloway said the trustees would use the next year to figure out how SJC might fit in the educational future and remain financially viable.

Dobler and Chief Financial Officer James Sharpe expect to keep their jobs during the restructuring of the college.

The school announced that some of the staff cut Saturday will be rehired to "maintain minimal critical function." Workers are needed to keep open cash-generating enterprises like the school's fish hatchery, childcare center and food services.

Holloway said the year-long closure does not reflect failure. Instead she called it an "opportunity."

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