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Lincoln College to Close Permanently After Ransomware Attack

The Illinois college, which opened in 1865, said recent financial troubles and projected enrollment shortfalls were exacerbated by a ransomware attack last semester that rendered systems inoperable.

Lincoln College University Hall
Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill., the only college named for Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime, will close following a ransomware attack in December.
(Mark Gordon/Lincoln College)
Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill., will close its doors following a ransomware attack in December, according to an announcement on the college's website. The decision marks the first higher education institution closure in the U.S. due in part to a cyber attack, as colleges and universities grapple with an increase in ransomware attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The website said officials recently notified the Illinois Department of Higher Education and Higher Learning Commission of its permanent closure, effective Friday.

The college website said challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the college’s finances and disrupted recruitment and fundraising efforts, as well as sporting events and other activities, amid an increased need for investments in technology and campus safety. Meanwhile, it said, the college experienced “a significant drop in enrollment” as more students chose to postpone college.

The college declined a request from Government Technology for further comment on the announcement.

The announcement said the December 2021 cyber attack did not expose sensitive identifying information, but it rendered all systems required for recruitment, retention and fundraising inoperable. It said the ransomware incident “thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data, creating an unclear picture of fall 2022 enrollment projections.”

In addition, the announcement said, college projections showed “significant enrollment shortfalls” moving forward once systems were restored in March 2022.

“Lincoln College has been serving students from across the globe for more than 157 years,” David Gerlach, president of Lincoln College, said in a public statement. “The loss of history, careers and a community of students and alumni is immense.”

According to the announcement, officials “worked tirelessly” to strengthen Lincoln’s financial position over the course of the pandemic through fundraising efforts, selling assets and consolidating employee positions, among other measures.

“Lincoln College has survived many difficult and challenging times – the economic crisis of 1887, a major campus fire in 1912, the Spanish flu of 1918, the Great Depression, World War II, the 2008 global financial crisis, and more, but this is different,” the website read.

An FAQ section on the website said transcripts can be ordered online through Lincoln’s National Student Clearinghouse for any student who attended after fall 1988.

“All credits earned at Lincoln College are valid even after the college has closed. The Higher Learning Commission regionally accredited Lincoln College, and credits will be considered for transfer by any other regionally accredited institution,” an FAQ on the website read. “Academic records will be preserved and accessible after Lincoln College closes. Records will be transferred to a custodian institution which is still to be determined.”