Sasse announces resignation from Midland University

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska’s Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Ben Sasse, has submitted his resignation from his job as president of Midland University, effective at year’s end.

ON CAMPUS: U.S. Senate candidate Ben Sasse says he has helped turned around a Nebraska college that was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Sasse swept to victory in the May 13 GOP primary, winning nearly half the votes in a five-man race, and is expected to defeat Democrat Dave Domina in the November general election.

Sasse said while his fate won’t be determined until November, he hoped by announcing his resignation early Midland would be able to find “the ideal person” to replace him.

“I know there are quality candidates who can help lead Midland’s continued growth, and I am pleased I will have the opportunity to assist in the search process,” he said in a Midland press release.

The Fremont native returned to his hometown in 2009 to take the reins at Midland, which was bordering on bankruptcy and having accreditation problems. Enrollment had dipped below 600 — the lowest level since at least World War II — and the school was operating at a deficit, with a crushing debt load.

At age 37, he took the job, becoming one of the youngest chief executives in higher education. Sasse, who calls himself a turnaround guy, set about renaming the school, adding a master’s program, cutting low-population programs, adding athletic and intramural programs, instituting a four-year graduation guarantee and posting surpluses after five years of operating deficits.

He says some majors had more professors than students, and set about eliminating the jobs of tenured professors. Lifetime tenure was replaced by “term tenure.”

“The college doesn’t exist as a jobs program for teachers,” he told Nebraska Watchdog nearly a year ago. “We raised a bunch of money and bought a lot of professors out.”

Enrollment has since nearly doubled to 1,300, and was already growing at the fastest pace among Nebraska colleges when Midland bought Dana College in Blair, a Lutheran college that closed in 2010. According to the school’s 2013 financial statement, net income was nearly $6 million. But the school borrowed $1.5 million from its endowment last year, leaving a modest balance of $6.8 million, and the lender of its biggest note, $3.6 million, forgave half of it in 2012.

The school’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, put the college on notice in November 2012 due to concerns about its finances, planning and assessment processes. Two of those issues have since been resolved, university officials say.

The board of directors’ chairman, Gary Perkins, has said 2012 was the year things turned around at Midland. The school says it’s now the fastest growing college in the region.

Perkins credits Sasse with moving from a focus on survival to breaking enrollment records.

“When others were saying to cut and do less just to survive, Ben decided Midland needed to build more opportunities for students, create more meaningful experiences, and better support and nurture young minds so that our community could thrive,” he said in a Midland press release.

The university will conduct a national search for Sasse’s replacement.

“Ben arrived in one of Midland’s darkest hours and shone new light on her potential,” Perkins said. “Because of his service, generations of alumni still have a college to visit and generations of young people to come will experience what it means to be a Warrior. The entire Midland community is indebted to Ben for his work here, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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