Finlandia ending operations
University cites demographics, debt as reasons for decision
HANCOCK — Finlandia University is ending operations at the conclusion of the spring semester and will not enroll students for the coming school year, the university’s Board of Trustees announced in a press release Thursday afternoon.
The board cited multiple reasons for closing the private university, including demographics — fewer high school graduates, who also have less interest in going to college — and an “unbearable” debt load.
“I want to assure you that the Board of Trustees made every effort possible to work with President (Tim) Pinnow and his leadership team to avoid this conclusion,” Board Chair Michael Nakkula said in the statement on behalf of the board. “We, as a board and leadership team, left no stone unturned in our attempts to move Finlandia forward toward a healthier future. While none of us wanted this day to come, we have also realized that in order to honor Finlandia University’s 126-year-old legacy appropriately, we must end its operations with as much grace and dignity as possible.”
The Finlandia community received a letter explaining the news from University President Tim Pinnow.
Students will finish out the academic year, but athletics programs closed immediately, said Michael Kolb, a second-year sports management student who also plays baseball and esports for Finlandia.
Friday’s news was “rough,” he said.
“Everybody’s just lost for words,” he said. “It’s a shock. I know there’s been a rumor going around for a while, but nobody thought it was going to come true … I’ve got a lot of friends here. It’s been nice.”
The board said Pinnow and his leadership team are working to help current students wrap up their studies and will help them smoothly transition to another college or university.
“As the leadership of Finlandia, our focus must now turn first to making sure that all of our students have good options to complete their education at another institution and that we can fulfill our intent that our employees be paid for all the work and tireless effort they have put into this little Finnish-Lutheran school way up north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” Pinnow said in the letter.
Finlandia University has finalized four teach-out agreements with Michigan Technological University, Bay College, Adrian College and Wartburg College. The teach-out agreements allow students to complete their course at another university in the event of the original university closing. A fifth agreement is in process with Northern Michigan University.
Kolb has two years left in his degree. He said he hasn’t decided on plans yet.
“I’m waiting to talk to some people, see what I can do, take this time off and recuperate, see what’s going to happen and just go from there,” he said.
Pinnow was hired as the university’s president in 2022. At a Wake Up Keweenaw breakfast in February, Pinnow addressed the challenges facing the university, as well as some potential strategies for addressing them.
“Finlandia at its largest was about 650 students,” he said at the monthly event, a collaboration of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce and Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance. “We’re now somewhere below 400. And so how do we downsize the institution in a way that makes sense and preserves all the abilities of the institution to still offer all the services educational and otherwise that it can provide?”
Finlandia was reducing employees through attrition, Pinnow said. It had also briefly closed its gallery last fall before reopening thanks to an anonymous donor.
The university has been selling off surplus properties, recently selling Quincy Green and the Ryan Street community gardens to the city of Hancock. Other properties included the Jutila Center, where potential options involved leasing the unused upper floors of the former Portage Hospital building or selling the building entirely.
At the time, Finlandia was also planning new degree programs, including social media marketing, esports and gaming management, and a one-year business degree geared toward European students. All three programs were projected to start in the fall.
Other programs included a co-operative education degree program with Northern Michigan University.
Finlandia was founded in 1896 as Suomi College and Theological Seminary by Finnish immigrants who wished to educate their children and train Finnish-speaking clergy for the Suomi Synod (Finnish Evangelical Lutheran) congregations, according to Finlandia’s 125th-anniversary site.
Suomi later became a liberal arts college, and was renamed Finlandia University in 2000.
It is the only remaining North American institution of higher learning founded by Finnish-Americans, according to the Finnish American Heritage Center’s website.