Clinton faces uncertainty with last graduation at Ashford University

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CLINTON, Iowa -

The last graduation at Ashford University marks more uncertainty for the Clinton economy.

The campus is closing after a decade of big plans and unrealized dreams.

There will be about 150 lost jobs while some 130  remaining students must finish on-line studies or transfer.

On Friday, everybody is searching for a campus connection to remember.

Inside the bookstore, each sale represents a tie to Ashford University.

"It's going to be really hard," said junior Megan Smith, 21.

The Animation major from Grant Park, Illinois, will finish her senior year on-line.

"It's been one of the best years of my life," she said.  "Having that dream where I could come to an actual campus and be able to stay here and make new friends."

Colorful Ashford banners are going up one last time outside.

Danielle Major, 21, is among about 200 graduating on Saturday.

"It's really exciting," she said.  "It's a big relief."

That jubilation is mixed with the reality of a campus closing.

"Not being able to see them again is really hard," said senior Ousmane Ba, 25.

There are a lot of connections to this campus through students and staffers.

Photos and memories chronicle the most recent connections.

It's higher education that actually dates back more than a century in Clinton.

"Just great memories," said Jill Mussmann, Class of 2000.  "I met my husband here.  I was a dorm assistant here."

Those classrooms are quiet now.

Lectures, tests and term papers all completed.

"I've never worked with a better group of people, period," said Dr. Charlie Minnick, campus director.

Dr. Minnick will work with 150 others at Ashford's on-line center in Clinton.

But about 150 other local jobs will be lost.

"I think we've really been blessed for the 11 years we've been Ashford University, and the things we were able to accomplish," he said.

New campus owners say the buildings are suited for education, but they're considering all possibilities.

"This is where everybody's heart and soul is at," concluded Major.  "They've got a lot of character here.  It's a good school."

It's a final Ashford connection for them to remember in Clinton.