Presentation College closes its doors, leaves two local students searching for alternatives
Photo courtesy of Jenna Ostenson.
The Ostenson family (Susan, Lane, Jenna, and Peyton) pose after a Presentation College Volleyball game. Unaware of the upheaval coming their way, the family grows excited to watch both sisters play for the same college volleyball team the following year. This reality will never come to fruition as Presentation College announced it would be closing its’ doors at the end close of the summer session of 2023.
By Garland Wright
EDGEMONT – Last month, on Jan. 17, Presentation College of Aberdeen announced it would close its doors at the conclusion of the Spring and Summer sessions of 2023. Delivering the message of its closure via a mandatory assembly, students and staff alike received the news that, for many, felt like an out-of-the-blue revelation.
Two individuals not at the assembly, but who would inevitably feel the fallout from its message, were sisters Jenna and Peyton Ostenson of Edgemont.
“None of us knew. Even the staff, faculty, and professors, except for high-up administrators,” said Jenna Ostenson, a current junior at Presentation College. “So, when they (Presentation College administrators) actually told all the staff, faculty, and professors in a separate meeting at the same time as us, at the same time as the press release. So, everybody found out at the same time… We didn’t have any idea this was even a possibility.”
Jenna has spent the last three years working towards her nursing degree while playing on the Presentation College Volleyball Team. Along with the closure of the school, died her dream that she would walk the volleyball court as a college senior, and also the ability to play at the collegiate level with her younger sister, Peyton Ostenson.
Peyton is currently a senior at Edgemont High School, and before January 17, she had the next four and a half years planned. That plan included graduating from Edgemont High School in May of 2023 and entering the 2023-24 freshmen class of Presentation College. She eagerly awaited joining her sister again on the court as a freshman on Saints’ volleyball team. That aspiration was dashed, like many others, on January 17 with the announcement of school’s closure.
“After careful evaluation of the sustainability of the College’s academic programs, and a thorough review of alternatives, the Board of Trustees and Presentation Sisters reluctantly decided to close the physical campus and implement Teach-Out programs as the most responsible way to steward students’ pathways to completing their degrees,” stated Sister Mary Thomas, president of the Presentation Sisters Corporate Board, as part of Presentation College’s closure announcement. Upon further examination of Presentation College’s announcement, it becomes apparent that the college’s closing is mostly attributed to finances.
“Just before the COVID pandemic, the College, the Board of Trustees, and the Corporate Board of the Presentation Sisters embarked on a year-long process of examining data and market impacts, engaging constituent groups to better understand the financial health of the College and its potential for growing enrollment to achieve sustainability,” the closure information stated. “Its rural location, difficult for many out-of-state students to access, was already a known factor, along with a significant dependency on tuition revenue and gifts. The impact of COVID exacerbated the College’s challenges.”
Originally, Presentation College was established in 1951 to serve as a means of providing education to nurses interested in rural health care. Throughout the years, Presentation College has added programs in Health and Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and Humanities. During Presentation College’s existence, the Presentation (Catholic) Sisters have continued to both sponsor the college and maintain ownership of the campus land.
As the initial shock fades and anger and sadness linger, students like Jenna and Peyton Ostenson scramble to determine their next steps. During the initial closure announcement, Presentation College offered three Teach-Out Agreements with other higher educational institutions to provide complete credit acceptance and similar tuition costs for current students. Those initial Teach-Out institutions included St. Ambrose of Davenport, Iowa; University of Mary of Bismarck, N.D.; and Olivet College of Olivet, Mich. The number of higher educational institutions willing to offer Teach-Out Agreements has grown to 27 since the initial closure announcement.
Teach-Out Agreements are different than simply transferring credits to another university. The issue with merely transferring credits is that they only sometimes entirely transfer depending on the receiving institution. Partnering with Teach-Out institutions ensures students have the most seamless transition to another higher learning institution.
Despite receiving assistance from Presentation to move to other universities, students like Jenna and Peyton are still clamoring to find a university home for next year. Jenna faces a different challenge than her sister in the coming year, as she must complete her nursing degree and pass her nurse licensure exam, NCLEX, by September 2024. She plans to sign her enlistment papers this coming May to join the Nursing Corps of the Navy. Therefore, she committed to meeting the above deadline to attend officer training school.
“I want to stay in-state because I have the South Dakota Opportunity scholarship,” answered Jenna, when asked what was next for her. Jenna is currently reviewing Mt. Marty, Dakota Wesleyan, and the University of Sioux Falls. All these universities agree to graduate Jenna on the same timeline, but the time pressure of Navy enlistment looms in the back of her mind.
Jenna does not plan to play volleyball her senior year, as taking the place of another player seemed unfair, she said.
“It would be the same as coming in as a freshman all over again… since I would be only playing one semester, it would make more sense not to play, especially since I’m sure the coaches would rather fill that spot with a freshman or a junior that could help the team more long term than I could as a senior,” stated Jenna, who was raised by two parents who both coach high school sports, and has always been an athlete and student simultaneously.
While the premature ending of Jenna’s volleyball career has been heartbreaking for both herself and her family, coaches at other schools have been understanding of the plight of Presentation College athletes left with no team and school to return to in the fall.
“The coach at Mt. Marty asked how I was doing and asked if I wanted to be a practice player, take stats, or help manage the team if I still wanted to be part of volleyball even if I wouldn’t be playing in games,” Jenna said. “It’s a tough decision, especially because I love the game. I just think it would probably be best not to play next year. One of the hardest parts was not knowing that my last game was my last game. I was really looking forward to playing with Peyton and having my senior season with Coach A and my team at PC, but that’s not going to be happening anymore.”
“I’d say Presentation is definitely trying,” Jenna said, when asked if Presentation College has been helpful in the transfer.
Lane Ostenson, Jenna and Peyton’s father, was shocked when Jenna relayed the message about Presentation College closing. Once the realization set in, Lane told his daughter, “Well, I’m sure that’s going to be hard, but God has a plan. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to. We’ll have to figure out our next steps and where God is sending you next.”
Peyton adds, “At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. Though I would have loved to play with my sister again, and for Coach Albrecht, there are some other great programs out there for me.
“Even though this may not be an ideal situation, I know that it was supposed to happen,” said Peyton. “I’m really just looking at this as a different door open for new opportunities. It’s exciting to see that I could potentially travel all across the country. I’m not sure what next year will bring, but I’m excited for whatever that experience may be.”
Peyton has yet to select a college but continues to tour them and discuss options with her family.