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Struggling Bacone College has filed for bankruptcy.

The move likely brings an end to its status as a freestanding institution, given that bankruptcy will render it ineligible for federal student aid. Interim president Leslie Hannah told Inside Higher Ed that while the college doesn’t plan to close, it will take the next academic year off to reorganize in hopes of attracting a partner to merge with or to acquire Bacone.

Court documents show the bankruptcy claim was filed Friday. A list of outstanding creditors shows the college owes vendors almost $2 million. Hannah said the bankruptcy was a strategic move to save the campus, which was almost auctioned off last year over unpaid vendor bills. Scheduled for December, the auction to sell off the land and facilities was postponed, and Bacone did not reopen its campus or hold classes for the spring semester. At least 40 of its 60 employees were laid off.

Bacone temporarily closed in 2018 amid financial issues. Then president Frank Willis told the community the college had run out of money and would likely close without significant fundraising. Enrollment never recovered, dropping from more than 900 students in fall 2017, the year before the temporary closure, to about 100 students last year, according to the college.

Bacone, which has historically served a large number of Native American students, has unsuccessfully sought recognition as a federally recognized tribal college since 2019. However, the Bureau of Indian Education rejected Bacone’s application for tribal college status in 2022. Former president Nicky Michael told Inside Higher Ed last year that the reasons for the rejection were unclear.

The college is perhaps best known for its contributions to Native art. In the 1930s, the “Bacone style” of Native American art emerged, emphasizing action, bright colors and a flat method of painting. Bacone has long been home to a major Native American art collection, which it has struggled to secure amid break-ins on campus in recent months. Hannah said much of the art collection has since been secured.