Arts program to take over Sheldon Jackson College

Debt retired, historic Alaska school’s trustees transfer property on Feb. 1

January 28, 2011

View of the Sheldon Jackson College campus near mountains

Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska


After more than 130 years, the story of Sheldon Jackson College, a Presbyterian-affiliated college in Sitka, Alaska, seems to be coming to an end.

On Feb. 1, the college’s Board of Trustees will transfer ownership of the core campus to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which has used the campus for decades.

“In keeping with the mission of Sheldon Jackson and the college, the trustees are very happy to have found an organization that is willing and able to continue the educational legacy,” said Shirley Holloway, chairwoman of the board, in a press release.

SJC was founded in 1878 by Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson. The oldest education institution in Alaska, it first served Tlingit Indian children, and later focused on all Alaska natives. The school suspended operations in 2007 after increasing operational costs, decreasing enrollment and millions of dollars of debt made it financially insolvent.

The upcoming transfer was made possible after SJC sold three properties — the college library, apartments and a beachfront lot — in December. With those proceeds and money previously raised from the sale of other non-core campus property the school owned, SJC was able to pay back $4.2 million of the $4.6 million it owed to Alaska Growth Capital, its largest creditor. Alaska Growth Capital agree to write off the rest of the loan and released the campus, said John Holst, SJC’s executive manager.

SJC still has to pay off about $600,000 in unsecured debts. When it transfers the campus to the fine arts camp, it will hold back five parcels of land that will be used to pay back those debts, Holloway said.

The fine arts camp plans to keep the Sheldon Jackson name attached to the property, a move that many on the Board of Trustees were happy to see.

“We feel so blessed. It’s been a long, hard journey,” Holloway said. “I feel so happy that that gorgeous campus will still be there and that young people will still be on that campus continuing to learn and grow.”

Founded in 1973, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp hosts 500 students who come to learn about visual arts, music, dance, theater, writing and Alaska Native arts. It has used the campus for 25 years, but has never had a permanent home, said Roger Schmidt, executive director of the camp.

“The Sheldon Jackson campus is such a beautiful place,” he said. “We want to use it as a tool to give kids inspiration and the desire to pursue their dreams, a place where they can be home.”

The camp will work to revitalize the campus along with other community groups, including the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Sitka Summer Music Festival and the Sheldon Jackson Museum. Schmidt said he hopes the campus will be a “spark plug” for Sitka’s cultural life.

The camp starts at the beginning of June, and the next few months will be dedicated to fixing up buildings that have fallen into disrepair since SJC closed. Schmidt said the camp will eventually need to raise millions of dollars to renovate the campus.

  1. I am looking forward to visiting this "transformed" Presbyterian college and fine arts center in August. I remember meeting a ministry couple after the college was closed. The mission to bring beauty and education to the Alaskan community, children and adults alike continues. Thank God. Deb Lind-Schmitz

    by Deb Lind-Schmitz

    June 1, 2015

  2. Hello, I was a prospective student candidate that was interested in attending and studying at Sheldon Jackson College, I was particularly interested in either obtaining a associate of science or bachelor of science degree in conservation biology, fish and wildlife management, or environmental education, during the mid 198o's and mid 1990's and finally between 2001 and 2003. I am interested in finding or locating some of Sheldon Jackson College's former catalogs that contained information about the college programs, majors and minors offered, also the their course needed for each of the majors and minors, plus their required course and electives... names and descriptions (class division identifiers and numeric value. I am seeking catalog information from the following years around 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and last few years of operation - 2003, 2005, and 2007.

    by Rod Petrie

    May 1, 2013

  3. This is great news! My husband and I have followed the news about Sheldon Jackson College as it has experienced hardships of various kinds over a number of years and as it has gone through this transition period. The plan that has been spelled out in this news release is so reassuring and affirms the historic vision and mission of SJC, to provide educational opportunities for the Alaskan community of peoples, which surround these beautiful facilities. How fitting that it will be a fine arts camp organization that will take over the properties, because Alaskans have offered the world much beauty and blessing through their culture, arts,musical gifts and talents. I wish to express my appreciation to everyone who has worked tirelessly to develop this "plan of action", which will carry on the work of mission and ministry through the arts. I am thankful to John Holst and Alaskan Growth Capital for working with our denomination and the SJC Board of Trustees in a collaborative way to "write off the rest of the loan" owed them, so that this plan can now move forward. As a child I remember giving mission monies to support SJC College. As an adult and an educator my heart is deeply touched by the vision and the generosity of all concerned to continue opportunities for children, youth, and adults to learn. Congratulations and I pray for God's blessings of hope to be showered upon this new educational venture! I thank God for those missionaries who began this good work and for all who will now continue "the good work" into the future. With gratitude, Jacquie Lyman GAMC member

    by Jacquie Lyman

    January 29, 2011