Christmas Tree concert

Choir members of Nebraska Christian College perform during their Living Christmas Tree concert in 2003. This was a holiday tradition in Norfolk before the college moved to Papillion three years later. On Thursday, it was announced that the college is closing.

Nebraska Christian College, which was located in Norfolk for 62 years, will close for good at the end of the spring semester because of low enrollment numbers and financial struggles.

The college, which opened in Norfolk in 1944 and moved to Papillion in 2006, intended to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year but instead will close next month.

Struggling financially before a merger with Hope International University (HIU) in 2016, Nebraska Christian added intercollegiate athletics and increased online academic options in an effort to attract more students. After the merger with Hope, enrollment jumped to 140 students (a 27% increase), but spring enrollment this year dropped to a 30-year low of 85. The enrollment decrease has caused unsustainable operating losses for the small campus, said Paul Alexander, president of Hope International.

“Despite those efforts (to boost enrollment) and despite the loving support of our donors, alumni and churches,” Alexander said in a letter to alumni and donors, “NCC has experienced operating losses of $1 million annually, simply because we don’t have enough students.”

University officials said students would have multiple options as they adapt to the campus closure. 

“It is imperative that our students and their families understand this is a branch campus closure,” Alexander said in a press release. “Students enrolled at NCC are already HIU students, by virtue of the merger, and will continue to be enrolled at HIU. We fully understand that this news, initially, is shocking, unsettling and disappointing for our students, but we want them to know that we will do everything in our power to assist them through this.”

Students may choose to transition to HIU’s California campus in Fullerton to complete their degree programs or to complete their degrees online. Half of the 85 students on campus are enrolled in online programs, and they may continue uninterrupted, while the other half have the option to transition to the Fullerton campus or complete their degrees online.

This transition will not increase students’ out-of-pocket tuition costs, and institutional financial aid levels will remain the same.

“This extremely difficult decision is a reflection of the unprecedented financial challenges facing many small, private, Christian higher educational institutions across the country,” Toby Yurek, chairman of Hope International's board of trustees, said in the college press release. “In these challenging times, institutions must make hard choices in order to survive and thrive.”

Nebraska Christian College has granted degrees to more than 1,000 students over the course of its 75-year history, but “good stewardship of God’s resources requires that we take action, no matter how difficult,” Alexander said.

The college was founded in Norfolk in 1944 in a converted apartment house near Ninth Street and Park Avenue. About 15 years later, as enrollment grew, overflow space was added across the street.

In the 1970s, the college gradually migrated from its cramped downtown quarters to 85 acres of untouched land on the northwest edge of Norfolk, where it remained until its move to Sarpy County. The land and buildings are now owned by the Ponca Tribe.

Discussions about moving from Norfolk picked up in 1997 when a board of trustees member talked of what Nebraska Christian could be if it were in Lincoln or Omaha. Shortly after, the college started shopping for land and decided on the plot near Papillion in 2002. Three years later, the board opted to make the move, in part because there were more churches in the surrounding area.

“As an alumnus of NCC, I am deeply saddened by this,” said Tony Clark, associate vice president for business and operations and former interim president, of the decision to close the college. “But it is crucial to remember that the legacy of NCC is not found on this property, but in the lives and achievements of our students and alumni, and in the lives that are changed through the impact of those students and alumni.”

In other news

Latino high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the region joined with one another recently in Norfolk to be motivated about lessons in life and to learn more about higher education opportunities.

The City of Norfolk is asking citizens to be mindful while driving, as traffic will be reduced from four lanes to two at First Street and Grove Avenue.