Clackamas students among those affected by Concordia University closing

Story By Laura Canida

Two former Clackamas Community College students are among those left in a lurch after the announcement on Monday that Concordia University is closing.

Natalia Rodriguez was a student at CCC from fall of 2017 to spring of 2019 and a Concordia student from fall of 2019 until now. “I was going to get my bachelor’s in elementary education.”

Rodriguez said she was first notified on Monday via text through the university’s emergency notification system.

“This morning everyone got a text that all classes were canceled and that said ‘Interim President Ries and a University Regent request your presence for an important update this morning at 10 a.m.’ My roommates and I were all freaking out and all thinking that the school was closing. When we got to the meeting the room was crowded with students  and then when the president began to talk he seemed upset and tried to open with a prayer but the crowd groaned and some students yelled “cut to the chase” and so he didn’t do the prayer and proceeded to tell us that the school was closing after this spring semester  due to financial struggles that had been happening since the last recession.”

Fenumia’i Ofoia, another former CCC student, started at Concordia during fall of 2018 and is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Ofoia said she found out about the news Monday at 10 a.m. when she received an email that all classes were cancelled.

“I figured it had to be something really important for them to do that,” Ofoia said.

The Northeast Portland school traces its roots in Portland back to 1905 as a Lutheran academy for local pastors and teachers. Concordia offered 15 undergraduate degrees, along with graduate programs in management and English.  It also operates a law school in Boise. The fate of Concordia’s  law school is unclear. Concordia is looking for a partner to help operate the school going forward.

Just days ago, Concordia held its annual fundraising event that raised $355,000 for its program with Portland Public Schools. Reports say there was no mention of the school closing at that time. The first time staff and faculty heard about a shutdown was when it was announced to them at 9 a.m. Monday — students got the word an hour later.

Thomas Ries has been serving as Concordia’s second interim president since Jan. 1. In a video posted to the Concordia website, Ries said after much prayer and consideration of all options to continue the 115-year legacy of Concordia University Portland, the Board of Regents concluded that due to enrollment and finances of the university, it is impossible for the school to continue pursuing its mission.

“The Board made this decision to prioritize the well-being  of students, faculty and staff and fulfill its fiduciary obligations,”  Concordia  said in a statement. “In the Board’s best judgment, a thoughtful and orderly closure process offers the best possible outcome for all affected parties.”

According to the Concordia  website, the University will return the property to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and one of the lenders, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. In 2012, Concordia opened a new athletic complex, built at a cost of $7.5 million. It is expected they will seek a buyer for the 24-acre campus property.

Ries said in a statement the primary lender is an agency of the Lutheran Church and that while they have been generous, they are no longer willing to loan Concordia money. April 25, 2020 will mark the last commencement ceremony at the Concordia University Portland.

“My plans are to continue my education, but I have to find a program that will take my education credits so that I don’t have to start over,”said Rodriguez. “Everyone is upset, they are wondering how it’s going to work out to transfer to different schools and how the end of the semester is going to look. All the staff found out an hour before the students, so it’s nice to know that they’re really with us in this. It’s all such short notice and I wish we had more than six weeks to figure out what we are going to do.”

Ofoia said in an email, “I’m not sure where I plan on attending, but I plan on attending another university  that has the same program I’ve been involved in, here at Concordia. Many of my friends are devastated just as the staff and faculty are as well.”

“It’s all a shock to us and a slap in the face and many of us have many concerns of our next plans for our journey we have yet to complete. I’m doing okay but I do feel for those who have already been accepted into the nursing program or in their final years of completing their BSN. I’m devastated for them and what’s to come, but I do believe that we just have to keep moving and figure out what’s next for us. I hope that everyone is able to get through it successfully and the help of each other. I don’t blame anyone and I feel for the staff and faculty just as much as I do for the students.”

Ries said Concordia will help students transfer to other schools for next year, and that faculty and staff will be told about their options in the upcoming weeks.

Concordia is the third Portland-area private college to shut down since 2018; Marylhurst in Lake Oswego and the Oregon School of Art and Craft both shut their doors for good in the previous two years.

According to the Portland Business Journal, Michael Fuller, a Portland attorney,  said Monday he filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Concordia students.  Fuller told the Journal he’d already spoken with four  Concordia students, three of whom were students at Marylhurst University when it closed in 2018. “They left one sinking ship and jumped to another,” he said.

In an eight-page lawsuit filed Monday in Multnomah County, the claim stated Concordia misled students about its financial condition, and collected tuition in 2020 that students would not have paid had the students known the truth about Concordia University’s looming closure.

Fuller, whose litigation practice goes by Underdog Law, filed a similar lawsuit against Marylhurst on behalf of 28 students. According  to the Journal, the case settled. Fuller said he was prohibited from discussing the terms of the Marylhurst settlement, but “the case settled acceptably to every single one of the students.”

Other colleges are already trying to help. Portland State University has created a webpage to offer assistance to students during this time of uncertainty.