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Antioch Reopens With Hope, Concerns About Future

The first day of class begins today at Antioch College in Yellow Springs. After closing in 2008 because of financial problems, it opens to 35 new students. This inaugural class gets free tuition, and plays an important role building on the traditions of Antioch. But as Emily McCord of member station WYSO reports, the students also feel a responsibility to resurrect the school for a community eager to see a thriving college again. Desiree Nickells stands in her kitchen in Yellow Springs, preparing a pesto made from her garden and an organic salad. She and her husband Ellis Jacobs are hosting two Antioch College students for dinner. Nickells says she thinks of the college as a neighbor. When it closed, she felt the loss. But for the last year, she’s been walking her dog around campus, and has been excited to see flowers being planted and signs being painted, and now she’s had her first student sighting. "They were doing some sort of group activity on the grass and it involved holding hands and standing in a circle," says Nickells, "and Ellis and I were walking by with our dog saying ‘There they are! There are the Antioch students! Don’t stare.' We’re so excited to see them and I think everybody is." James Russel says he’s been an activist his entire life, which is why he’s at Antioch now. He moved to Yellow Springs from Fort Worth, Texas. When he met his fellow students at the orientation, he felt he was right at home. "The first thing I thought when I met everybody and heard them talk [was that] they all speak with verve. They speak with zest. They speak with exuberance and a passion that’s only embodied by an Antiochian," says Russell. It hasn’t been the typical leaving-home-to-go-college story for these students. Antioch College has not yet been accredited. Some of the Buildings are still closed, and it’s a liberal arts college reopening at a time when other liberal arts colleges are cutting back, and the students understand that. "It’s a little bit nerve wracking because there’s such a pressure about it. But it’s worth the risk," says Ryann Patrus from Cincinnati. "Even if it didn’t get accredited, it’s still the most amazing experience. There are some things are more important about what some board says about a school. It’s about you learn there." Ryann and her fellow students will learn in the Antioch model of education: classroom, community and real world work experience. But there’s a new, added emphasis on environmental and global sustainability. So, for example, a student will be learning about water or energy in both their chemistry and philosophy class. College president Mark Roosevelt says it’s a unique approach to higher education and he doesn’t see another choice. "People know it, they don’t say it, that the way we’re delivering education in the country isn’t working. It’s too expensive and not sustainable. We have to be aggressive. That’s hard, but also exciting and fun," says Roosevelt. Al Denman has been at the college since the mid 60s. Despite his excitement, he says he wonders: "will it work?" He’s standing next a group of the new students chatting with one another, and says they are the ones he’d been hoping for. "Well, it’s thrilling. This reminds me so much of 1965," says Denman. "These students are so articulate, so perceptive. They seem to know everything. I remember as a new faculty member in 1965 wondering if I should resign because I didn’t seem to belong here. The students were smarter than I was and knew more than I did. I have that same feeling." But one thing must change from the past, says President Roosevelt. Antioch needs to free itself from what he calls chronic poverty. He knows it’s a risk, but believes that support for college will be strong. "I have a phrase I like to use which is you cannot discover new land without being out of sight of all land for a period of time," says Roosevelt. Roosevelt says Antioch College’s board has already pledged $9 million out of the $27 million in operating costs over the next three years. He says he’s confident if Antioch can continue to develop its mission with the help of the faculty, students and community, they will the raise the money needed to secure its future.