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Updated: Grief, gratitude at Clarks Summit University as school announces closure

Erika Bruckner, director of communications at Clarks Summit University, on right, embraces recent graduate Sam Dancer. Behind them is Leah Knight, who had planned to start her sophomore year at the school.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Erika Bruckner, director of communications at Clarks Summit University, on right, embraces recent graduate Sam Dancer. Behind them is Leah Knight, who had planned to start her sophomore year at the school.

Clarks Summit University’s pending closure brought both grief and gratitude to the Lackawanna County campus on Monday.

Staff and students of the Baptist school, which had furloughed all employees last month, had remained hopeful the school could remain open despite its financial troubles.

Faculty planned new programs. Alumni provided support. A freshman class enrolled for the fall.

But in the end, the students and employees said, staying open wasn’t in God’s plans.

“This was not what I expected at the beginning of this year, in the middle of this year, or even toward the end of it, but it just came around suddenly, and it was the right way to go,” said James Lytle, university president.

Clarks Summit University President James Lytle stands outside Jackson Hall on Monday.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Clarks Summit University President James Lytle stands outside Jackson Hall on Monday.

The school, formerly known as Baptist Bible College and Seminary, announced on Monday it had started the closure process. Students enrolled in summer courses will complete their classes, but there will be no students this fall. Agreements with Cairn University near Philadelphia and Liberty University in Virginia will allow students to transfer and complete their degrees.

The 120-acre campus on Venard Road in South Abington Township will be put on the market. The recreation center, which had been open to the public, is now closed.

Employees, many who have worked for nearly a month voluntarily while being furloughed, gathered Monday morning to learn about the closure. They cried, embraced and remained faithful.

“There’s a combination of grief and gratefulness and just sadness that this is over, because it has been so good,” said Erika Bruckner, director of communications. “We’re grateful for what he's done, grateful for all the relationships that he has built here, grateful for the things we have learned here, and grateful for what he's going to do, even though we don't have the privilege of seeing what that looks like yet.”

Bruckner also serves as a resident director who lives on campus with her husband and three children. Her children, who have grown up on campus, hadn’t heard the news yet.

“I think the grounding thing that ties us all together is our faith in Christ,” she said. “We've always been a community that supports one another, and that doesn't stop if this institution doesn't exist.”

For more than a decade, declining enrollment and rising costs have made it hard to balance budgets. In 2006, the college had more than 1,000 students, including more than 700 in undergraduate programs. This spring, the total was 548 students. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education placed the university on probation in November over concerns in several areas, including finances.

More than $1 million short in its budget and with options seemingly exhausted, the Board of Trustees voted to close the school. Lytle said a major donation could potentially keep doors open, but as of now, the school will cease operations.

Three pastors opened the school in Johnson City, New York in 1932, seeking a place for men and women to learn Baptist doctrine. The school moved to South Abington Twp., Lackawanna County, in 1968.

The Christ-centered, faith-based education changed the life of recent graduate Sam Dancer.

“I’ve grown so much in the Lord since I've been here, and it's just been an incredible experience," she said. "Just to know that it's closing is really sad, because of knowing how much it's changed me and so many other people here."

Recent graduate Sam Dancer, rising sophomore Leah Knight and Erika Bruckner, director of communications at Clarks Summit University, say they share grief and gratitude over the school's closure.
Sarah Hofius Hall
/
WVIA News
Recent graduate Sam Dancer, rising sophomore Leah Knight and Erika Bruckner, director of communications at Clarks Summit University, say they share grief and gratitude over the school's closure.

Dancer walked the campus with her friend Leah Knight, who had planned to start her sophomore year in the fall. She has started to look at other places to complete her degree.

“God is sovereign, and he's in control, and no matter where he leads us, no matter what goes on in our life, as we will have trials even after this that will be crippling, we can have hope in our Savior. You know things are going to happen that are going to be very depressing and hard, but Jesus is our only hope, and we can step forward in that and have joy each day,” Knight said. “I’m so thankful, and I will always be thankful for CSU.”

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org
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