Fascinating story of Lon Morris College and its grand plan to save itself.
Like so many other non-profit, two-year private campuses, Lon Morris has been seeking ways to survive as more than half the country’s private junior colleges have disappeared since the mid-1990s due in part to cheaper tuition at community colleges. Dozens have closed. Most transitioned to four-year schools. But in a fitting strategy for a Texas school, Lon Morris saw its survival in football.
“That was going to be my new home for the next two years,” said Brandon Griffin, 18, among the latest football recruits looking for a new school after Lon Morris axed its sports teams and furloughed almost all faculty members. “For a moment, I didn’t even know if I wanted to play football anymore. I worked all the way through high school just for this scholarship and it was taken from me unfairly.”
The school’s decision to revive the football program in 2009 was meant to help erase some of its debt but instead drove Lon Morris further in the hole, about $20 million when it filed for bankruptcy in July. It also prompted the resignation of the president who spearheaded the idea and left plenty of disheartened students and former faculty wondering what to do next.
The strategy was to recruit more than 300 football players for the first season on partial scholarships of $7,500 each, leaving them to pay more than $15,000 in remaining expenses and replenish the school’s coffers. The recruiting helped more than triple the school’s enrollment to about 1,000 students by 2010.
It was quite an enrollment boost for a tiny campus located more than a two-hour drive from Dallas in this quiet town of 14,500 people.
Lon Morris then endured a string of unexpected pitfalls that added to the million-dollar football expansion tab. The campus didn’t offer enough room to house the rush of new students, so administrators leased a nearby hotel. It also offered huge tuition discounts to players — as high as 53 percent in 2010 — and failed to collect payments from those who could not pay yet continued to take classes. Other costs, including hiring security to combat reports of misbehaving players, only worsened the financial hole.
It seems like an awfully strange thing to have tried given that football is generally a money-losing proposition for colleges. I don’t have anything to add to this, I had just never really given any thought to the world of private two-year colleges. This was an interesting look inside that world, so check it out.