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SNHU offers to buy Daniel Webster College campus

Sunday News Correspondent

September 19. 2016 8:35PM
At right, Meshach Dunn and Carlos Diego, freshmen at Daniel Webster College, speak with a friend on Friday at the Nashua campus. (Kimberly Houghton /Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA — Southern New Hampshire University is moving ahead with its plans to rescue Daniel Webster College, and has submitted an offer to purchase the 53-acre campus.

“We do not know exactly how this will play out,” SNHU president Paul LeBlanc said. “I think students are still trying to get their head wrapped around what all this means for them.”

LeBlanc, who did not disclose the amount of the purchase offer, said he has not yet received any response from ITT Educational Services of Carmel, Ind., the parent company of DWC.

Earlier this month, ITT announced that it is shutting down its campuses. SNHU has since been granted permission from the U.S. Department of Education to begin a “teach-out” agreement that will allow students and staff to remain at DWC.

“Our hope is to take most, if not all of the employees onto our regular payroll,” LeBlanc said of the 87 full-time employees at DWC.

Students at the local school have mixed feelings about the “teach-out,” which will allow seniors to graduate with a DWC diploma; underclassmen will earn a degree from SNHU.

“I’m not particularly happy about this,” said Fyodor Berkovich, a freshman. The computer and electrical engineering major said he is worried that his scholarship may not be transferred and his credits from the U.S. military may not be honored. He also questioned the future of the school’s wrestling program, in which he hoped to participate.

LeBlanc said SNHU’s top priority is to take care of students.

“We are going to honor original fee schedules and financial aid packaging,” he said.

The fall sports teams are operating as normal, and LeBlanc said his team is working with NCAA officials to hopefully continue operating the winter and spring sports at DWC as well.

Those words reassured DWC soccer players and freshmen Meshach Dunn and Carlos Diego, who said their main concern is the future of the soccer team.

“For me, this transition is a good opportunity,” said Diego, of Lawrence, Mass. “A lot of the students seem to have a good feeling about this.”

Steve Ellis, a senior, said he is relieved to be able to finish his schooling but does worry about obtaining a degree from a college that is essentially defunct.

“The more I think about it, having a degree from SNHU would probably be better in the long run,” said Ellis, of Tyngsborough, Mass. “SNHU is a really good school. I’m looking forward to the transition.”

A representative with New England College said this week that it is also welcoming DWC students, and has pledged to match student tuition and tuition discounts. NEC has received about a dozen transfer students from DWC in the past 10 days.

Challenges ahead

There are some maintenance needs at DWC must be addressed, according to LeBlanc, who said some matters have been neglected given the financial constraints the school has been operating under. He also noted that asbestos is present on site, but it appears to be contained.

“Students are at no risk and at no danger. It has not been disturbed,” he said of the asbestos.

There was a $2 million reserve set aside for asbestos abatement, but that money no longer exists, LeBlanc said.

He said that SNHU hopes to revisit the current assessments for DWC.

According to city assessment records, the parcel is assessed at $23,955,000; it was acquired by ITT in 2009 for $14,990,741.

“We will move forward, and the property issue will play out in its own time frame,” said LeBlanc.

If ITT files for bankruptcy as expected, he said, the bank proceedings could complicate a potential acquisition.

Last week, city officials praised SNHU for stepping in to save DWC.

“Daniel Webster College has been a fixture at the airport, and it has done a lot for the aviation field,” said Alderman David Schoneman, Ward 3.

LeBlanc said SNHU is moving toward more STEM fields, and is excited about DWC’s mechanical engineering major. It makes sense to continue those programs and support the long-standing relationship between DWC and the Nashua Airport, he said.

There is a great need for air traffic controllers, and there is a great deal of interest in the aviation aspect of the school, LeBlanc said.

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