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Empire College to close School of Business

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Empire College in Santa Rosa announced today it will begin closing its School of Business over the next 18 months, citing lower enrollment exacerbated by three consecutive years of wildfires. The announcement, made by Empire College President Roy Hurd, also stated no new enrollments would be accepted, effective immediately.

The closure does not affect Empire College School of Law, which last year had a marked increase in prospective students, Hurd said.

“For the last three years the Empire College Board of Directors has been grappling with reduced student populations in the Business School, not dissimilar to what has occurred at community colleges and other private and public colleges across the country,” he said. “The ongoing student population decrease was further influenced by the devastating wildfires in Sonoma County that forced many to move elsewhere to find affordable housing and reduced living costs. Coupled with an ongoing historically low unemployment rate and a shrinking and aging local population, this difficult decision was reached.”

The School of Business will remain open over the next 18 months so that all currently enrolled students can complete their education programs, Hurd said. The business school offered associate degrees in five programs: accounting, business, medical, information technology and paralegal. There has been an approximate 25% decline in enrollment over the last three years, he said.

Empire’s business school employs 16 full-time instructors and 19 adjunct faculty. All are at-will employees and will be eligible for unemployment, Hurd said. Individual departures are anticipated to come at different phases throughout the next 18 months.

Hurd is also in the process of drafting a partnership, formally known as an articulation agreement, with Independence University, an online college based out of Salt Lake City that offers bachelor’s degrees. An articulation agreement is typically between a community college and a four-year institution, with the goal of creating a seamless transfer for students.

“They’re providing an exceptional number of programs which are very similar to our own,” said Hurd, who has sat on Independence University’s board for more than a dozen years. He is anticipating a decision within the next week to 10 days.

As far as to why Empire College’s School of Law is flourishing in the face of its business school shuttering, Hurd says there are several factors.

“The School of Law tends to enroll individuals who have advanced degrees,” he said. “They’re well established in this community with housing and jobs because they are normally (already) in professional positions.”

Marketing also has helped.

“We changed the website roughly six months ago so the School of Law stood separately from the School of Business, and that seemed to attract a large number of people,” he said. “And we just added our 15th and 16th judges who came out of our law school, and that attracts some attention.” The 16 judges who have graduated from Empire College’s School of Law are spread out primarily over Northern California; one is in Arizona. In addition, a number of judges teach courses at the school, he said.

North Bay Business Journal publisher Brad Bollinger is a member of the board of directors at Empire College.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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