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The Nation

Old college try isn't enough for Antioch

Thousands rally for the Ohio liberal arts school beset by financial and enrollment woes. But it will still close in 2008.

June 23, 2007|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

When students who were accepted for admission but choose to attend other schools were asked why, Lawry said, the top reason was the shabby condition of the school's facilities.

Having a tiny staff doesn't help. Finances have kept the school's classroom faculty to 40, and there is only one professor per subject matter -- one person charged with teaching history, one for instructing about literature, one for lecturing on psychology.

And Antioch faces fierce competition, administrators say, as other colleges have adopted the same educational approach -- such as cooperative learning and pass-fail coursework -- that once made this campus unique.

Antioch enrollment's downward trend comes in sharp contrast to the national increase of student applicants and attendees at small private colleges, said C. Todd Jones, president of the Assn. of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio.

"It becomes a domino effect. You need students and you need a wealthy pool of alumni, because the lifeblood of independent colleges is tuition and endowments," Jones said.

"Without those, you're stuck in a dangerous spiral."

Antioch's golden age endures in Yellow Springs, a village of 3,600 located about 19 miles northeast of Dayton.

The closure will be a painful blow here. Many residents attended the college, and the university is the town's largest employer. Its taxes make up 40% of Yellow Springs' general fund, said Village Manager Eric Swanson. "Everyone knew that the school was in trouble, so this didn't come as a huge surprise," Swanson said. "But when it closes, that's going to mean about 130 jobs lost here. And that's a lot for a village our size to lose."

School officials are hoping to retrench and raise enough money to reopen the campus in 2012. It's not an impossible dream: The board has closed and reopened the school three times in the past, mostly because of financial issues.

However, administrators acknowledge they may face a difficult chore in luring new students -- and persuading current ones to stay through next year.

Mandela Freiberg, 20, won't return. The junior, who has been working toward a dual degree in psychology and education, is spending the semester teaching English to rural families and athletes in Tanzania.

"Last weekend, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking, 'What are you going to do, now that Antioch is closing?' My heart dropped," Freiberg said.

"I got through to my parents and a professor, and realized it wasn't a horrible joke. I was shocked."

Freiberg said she planned to take the next semester off, and transfer to another school in the spring. "It's incredibly scary," Freiberg said. "I can't believe they let us down like this."

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p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Some well-known alumni of Antioch College

* Lawrence Block: novelist

* Olympia Brown: women's suffragist

* Leland C. Clark Jr.: chemist, built the first practical heart-lung machine

* John C. Flansburgh: guitarist and songwriter for the musical group They Might Be Giants

* Stephen Jay Gould: paleontologist and author

* Robert M. Greenwald: director and producer of more than 49 television movies, miniseries and feature films

* John P. Hammond: blues guitarist

* Coretta Scott King: activist and wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

* Horace Mann: abolitionist and the first president of Antioch

* Sylvia Nasar: journalist, economist and author of "A Beautiful Mind"

* Victor Nunez: independent filmmaker whose credits include "Ulee's Gold" and "Ruby in Paradise"

* Leonard Nimoy: actor

* Eleanor Holmes Norton: congresswoman

* Cliff Robertson: actor

* Louis Sachar: author of Newbery Medal-winning children's novel "Holes"

* Mark Strand: former U.S. poet laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry

* Rod Serling: "Twilight Zone" creator

Source: Times staff

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