Lincoln College, a predominantly Black college in Illinois, announced last Wednesday that it will close after 157 years. In the official release, the college stated it could not survive the financial challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack last year.
Despite reportedly surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, a major fire, and economic hardships, the rural college must finally pull the plug. According to The New York Times, college President David Gerlach said of its closing this Friday, May 13, “The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense.”
The cyber-attack started with a ransom note that appeared in computer printer trays at the college. Many of the college’s files had been encrypted and the institution no longer had access to critical enrollment, admissions, and fundraising information. Gerlach told the Chicago Tribune that the school paid a ransom of less than $100,000 citing the attack originated in Iran.
Cyberattacks on higher education institutions are not as uncommon as one would think. Amid the shift to remote learning during the lockdown, cybercriminals displayed little restraint in locking up the computer systems. In 2021, 26 colleges and universities were hit across the nation. According to Hackmageddon, a website that tracks security breaches, a handful of institutions have been hit in just the first quarter of the year. Forbes reported that North Carolina A&T State University reported a ransomware attack in March while the university was on spring break. North Orange County Community College District suffered a data breach in January that exposed student and employee personal information. Ohlone Community College District in California and Midland University in Nebraska also reported ransomware attacks this year.
It took months for Lincoln employees to regain access to all of their systems. But when the systems were fully restored, the school had just over 1,000 students during the 2018-19 academic year. The cyberattack was the tip of the iceberg that would be followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
With disastrously low enrollment, the administration realized it would require a massive donation or partnership to stay open beyond the current semester.
A GoFundMe campaign called Save Lincoln College was launched to raise $20 million but as of this week, only $2,352 had been raised. And Gerlach told the Tribune that the school needed $50 million to remain open.
In late March, Lincoln’s Board of Trustees voted to close the school after the current spring semester.
“The economic burdens initiated by the pandemic required large investments in technology and campus safety measures, as well as a significant drop in enrollment with students choosing to postpone college or take a leave of absence, which impacted the institution’s financial position,” the statement continued.
The school also announced that the Higher Learning Commission had approved what is called Teach Out/Transfer Agreements with 21 colleges. The school held a college fair last month to give students a chance to learn where they might want to transfer.