Additional reporting by Kate Raddatz
ST PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Hundreds of students and faculty members at a St. Paul music college are left in limbo after a surprise announcement.
In an email Thursday night, McNally Smith College of Music announced they don’t have enough money to keep their doors open or pay their employees. The school is blaming their funding trouble on the decline of higher education in general, and on stricter regulations from the Department of Education. According to that email, those rules forced the school to convert to a nonprofit, which the IRS approved in April.
A lot of the students do not know what they are going to do yet. Many students were getting ready to take their finals when they got the news that their school would be closing its doors.
In that surprise email announcement, the school begged faculty to stay on board without pay through the end of the term and issue grades for the sake of students.
If the school were to shut down immediately, administrators say more than 300 students wouldn’t receive class credits for courses they have already paid for and nearly 40 students wouldn’t be able to graduate over the weekend.
One sophomore composition major who has been a student at the college for a year and a half still showed up for work and class Friday like normal, even though he doesn’t know when he will be paid.
“If there’s anybody that should be mad, it’s the faculty. I think — students, I’m 19, we’re young, we have our lives ahead of us, some of these faculty members have family and they’re dealing with them,” Ryan Pollock said. “Even if I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t change it. This has been an amazing year.”
A day before her scheduled graduation, Liz Brooks is now waiting on credit for five classes amid news her school is closing. She’s one of of around 40 students the school says wouldn’t be able to graduate this weekend.
“It’s heartbreaking. I’m lucky enough that hopefully I’m still getting my degree,” Brooks said. “I was told Jack McNally and Doug Smith don’t want us to have the ceremony because it might make us too sad, but the rest of us want to have because we worked really hard.”
Brooks is confident she’ll get the credits she needs, thanks to teachers like guitar instructor Joe Elliott, who was on his way to give out a final exam when WCCO talked with him Friday.
“We’re invested in the students,” he said. “It’s just terrible to think that it’s over.”
McNally Smith first opened in 1985. The college currently has about 600 students and about 100 faculty members on staff.
Tuition runs about $27,000 for a full-time undergraduate student.
The term officially ends on Wednesday. Many teachers and administrators have told students that they will keep working for free in order to help sort things out.
If you have a federal loan for the school, the Minnesota Department of Higher Education says you can file a claim for a closed school discharge from your loan within 120 days after the closure. That claim is through the U.S. Department of Education.
If you have private loans for McNally-Smith, it’s up to your individual loan provider.
On Thursday, college president Harry Chalmiers sent the following email to students:
“It is with deep regret that we are writing to you to inform you that McNally Smith College of music must discontinue all course offerings at the end of this fall semester, 2017. As you may know, for several years the college has been experiencing declining enrollment and revenue. For nearly 2 years we have been in the process of becoming a nonprofit college and we have been seeking funding necessary to establish the college on firm financial footing as a nonprofit institution. In spite of our best efforts, we have been unable to obtain this funding and the cash necessary to fund ongoing operations.
“We are in intensive discussions with institutions of higher education locally and nationally seeking their partnership to provide each of you with options where you may continue your studies. As these partnerships become established, we will do everything possible to help you make a smooth transition to an appropriate institution.
“We are extremely proud of the educational programs we have developed and profoundly sad that we are forced to discontinue our programming. The reputation nationally and internationally of McNally Smith College of Music is very strong and deservedly so. We believe that the preparation you have received here is second to none and will provide you with a solid foundation for continuing your education and creating a life in music.
“We sincerely wish you all the best and are deeply sorry for this highly disappointing situation for all of us.”