Duluth Business University (DBU) has been awarding degrees and diplomas since 1891, but next summer, it will give out its last.
The for-profit school, the oldest postsecondary institution in the city, will close in June after 126 years of educating students.
The reason? Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education stopped recognizing the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), DBU’s accrediting agency. The government said ACICS was out of compliance with numerous agency criteria and could no longer serve as a “gatekeeper” of institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs.
Without accreditation, students can’t get federal financial aid, and that resulted in an enrollment nose-dive at DBU, said James Gessner, the school’s owner and president for the past 52 years. The school offers programs in business administration, health care management, human services, massage therapy, medical assisting, veterinary technology and medical billing and coding.
“We got blindsided by this thing,” Gessner said, referring to the education department decision. “We’ve never been accused of anything. We’ve never paid a fine. We’ve been clean. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
The school sought accreditation from a new overseer but withdrew its application when it became clear that, even with a new business plan, it would not be able to recover from the enrollment slide.
The U.S. Department of Education said in December that it would provisionally certify ACICS-accredited institutions, enabling students to get financial aid for up to 18 months. That allows DBU to remain accredited until it closes. No new students were admitted for the most recent term that began July 10.
DBU offers diplomas for bachelor’s degrees and other programs that typically take nine months to four years to complete. Campus Director Bonnie Kupczynski said the school has rewritten schedules and will bring on extra staff so students can complete more technical courses before the closing and take general education courses at other schools or online, if necessary.
Students who complete all required course work over the next three quarters “will get a degree or diploma, and it will show that it is from an accredited organization,” Gessner said, adding that his goal is to get all of the students into the best situation possible.
“We don’t want to suddenly close and leave our students or our community that way,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to help our students.”
The school, along I-35 in West Duluth, opened a 27,400-square-foot campus, which is now for sale, in 2004. At that time, it employed 80 people and had an enrollment of 350 students in 16 programs. It now has 73 students in eight programs and a handful of staff. More than half the students — 43 — are in the veterinary technician program.
Holly Rosendahl, practice manager at the North Shore Veterinary Hospital in Duluth, said the closure is “unsettling” because of a shortage of vet technicians in the Duluth area and nationwide. Five of the nine techs on her staff graduated from DBU. She said having a training school in the area “gave us a leg up” in filling vacancies. With DBU’s closing and the nearest vet tech program a few hours away in the Twin Cities, “our one resource is gone,” she said.
Taylor Ziegler, a student in the vet tech program, called the school’s closing “a sad day.”
“This is not fair. I love my classmates and love my teachers,” she wrote on Facebook. “Do I love the fact my school costs an arm and a half? NO. But I do it because I love animals and at the end of the day I wouldn’t be anywhere else. This school will be missed.”