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Duluth Business University announces plans to close

Duluth Business University announced Wednesday that it plans to close next June, citing a sharp drop in enrollment at the 126-year-old school amid uncertainty about its future accreditation. (2016 file / News Tribune)

Duluth Business University announced Wednesday that it plans to close next June, citing a drop in enrollment at the 126-year-old school amid uncertainty about its future accreditation.

The U.S. Department of Education last September said it was terminating recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, banning it from the federal financial aid program; a school must be accredited by a recognized agency for its students to be eligible for federal financial aid.

DBU initially sought oversight from a new accreditor, but has withdrawn its application after enrollment dropped to just 73 students, James Gessner, DBU's longtime owner and president, said in a news release.

"We've seen months of declines in applications," he said. "Our leads went down, our student population went down, and our revenue went down. It got to the point where it was too late. There was no realistic reason to believe that anything we could do would change that trend."

Gessner said the school, which was located downtown for decades had as many as 350 students in 16 programs and 80 employees when it moved into its present building at 4724 Mike Colalillo Drive in West Duluth in 2004. That number now stands at 73 students in eight programs and a "handful" of staff, he said. Forty-three of the students are in DBU's veterinary technician program.

Gessner said Wednesday that DBU will start working individually with students to create "teach out" plans for them to finish their degrees at DBU or elsewhere. Students at the school will remain eligible for financial aid until June 2018, when the school is slated to close.

"Our goal is to get all of our students into the best situation possible," Gessner said. "We don't want to suddenly close and leave our students or our community that way. We're doing everything we can to help our students."

The DBU building is up for sale, Gessner said.

DBU was founded in 1891 to teach shorthand, accounting and other office skills. In addition to its veterinary technician program, its current programs include business administration, health-care management, human services, massage therapy, medical assisting, and medical billing and coding.

Gessner said in the news release that he's heard from employers in the Northland who are concerned about the loss of new hires who graduate from DBU.

"The majority of students who go to this school stay in this region," he said. "We will miss Duluth, and Duluth will miss DBU."

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