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Predominantly Black college to shut down after Covid-19 and cyberattack burdens

By Omar Jimenez and Sean Lyngaas, CNN

After more than 150 years, Lincoln College in central Illinois is closing its doors after significant challenges from Covid-19 and complications stemming from a recent cyberattack.

The college is a predominantly Black institution, as designated by the U.S. Department of Education, and according to the Lincoln Heritage Museum, was the only college named for Abraham Lincoln while he was still living. It opened in 1865.

“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,” part of a statement posted to Lincoln College’s website read.

“The economic burdens initiated by the pandemic required large investments in technology and campus safety measures, as well as a significant drop in enrollment with students choosing to postpone college or take a leave of absence, which impacted the institution’s financial position,” the statement continued.

But it also singled out a cyberattack in December 2021 that “thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data, creating an unclear picture of Fall 2022 enrollment projections. All systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts were inoperable.”

As of summer 2021, Lincoln College had roughly 1,200 students.

Additionally, according to the statement, when the systems were restored in March 2022, there were “significant enrollment shortfalls, requiring a transformational donation or partnership to sustain Lincoln College beyond the current semester,” and, “Unfortunately, these efforts did not create long-term viability for Lincoln College in the face of the pandemic.”

Cybercriminals have shown little restraint in locking up the computer systems of schools and universities across the US amid a shift to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Ransomware affected 62 school districts and the campuses of 26 colleges and universities in 2021, according to cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. All told, ransomware incidents disrupted learning at more than 1,000 schools in the US in 2021, the firm said.

“Ransomware is a multi-million-dollar problem for the education sector, but its impact is more than financial,” Brett Callow, a threat analyst at Emsisoft, told CNN. “Attacks also disrupt kids’ educations and cause personal information relating to both students and teachers to leak online.”

Lincoln College held its final graduation ceremony Saturday and will officially close its doors on Friday.

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