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Stateside Podcast: The closing of Finlandia

Justusr76 via Wikipedia

Hancock, Mich., is one of the few places in the United States where you’ll hear Finnish spoken out and about. You’ll also see signs in Finnish, Finnish flags, and Finnish restaurants. It’s also the home of Finlandia University, a private Lutheran school that was founded 126 years ago by Finnish immigrants.

Last week, Finlandia University announced that it will be shutting its doors due to financial hardship.

University president Timothy Pinnow said that Finlandia’s closing is part of a larger national trend amongst small private liberal arts colleges.

“Anyone who follows higher ed know[s] there's been a number of [schools] that closed in the northeast part of the country over the last decade that's starting to spread toward the Midwest,” Pinnow said.

The closures, he said, are due to three main reasons: (1) The “demographic cliff,” which is a drop in the traditional college aged population; (2) the drop in college attendance of Pell Grant eligible students over the past ten years; and (3) inflation.

There’s a Finnish concept called sisu that President Pinnow said is vital at Finlandia University.

“It is the notion that even when you have no resources left, you try and keep going and you keep going anyway. And that has kept this place alive for 126 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are a place where … all the sisu we had has run out. We don't have any more options.”

In the coming weeks, Finlandia University will support students transferring to new schools.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.