2015: Significant Events in Adventist Education

Every year is marked by highs and lows in the realm of Adventist education, and 2015 was no different. Arguably, this year has contained more speculation, analysis, and opinions regarding the future of Adventist education, its usefulness, and its necessity, due in large part to the announced closure of Mount Vernon Academy near the beginning of 2015.

The General Conference called it a wake-up call, while various educators and leadership speculated on possible solutions. Some focused on the high cost of maintaining our schools and proposed withholding a percentage of tithe to fund Adventist education. Others focused on the fact that only 26% of Adventist families have school-age children, and of that group, only 30% of them choose to enroll their children in the Adventist school system. The reminder that all Adventist children require discipleship, whether in our school system or not, and the Adventist church as a whole needs to adopt a better approach toward this issue was also addressed. When asked to reflect on their experience in the Adventist school system, Millennials responded favorably, mentioning the life-lessons and strengthened relationship with God they found while in attendance.

Following on the heels of the Mount Vernon Academy news came the announcement that Valley Grande Academy in Texas planned to close at the end of the academic year as well. Meanwhile, Atlantic Union College and its new president, Dr. Avis Hendrickson, spent the year in quiet and determined preparation for re-opening the college’s doors in fall of 2015 after losing its accreditation and being forced to close down in 2011. An Adventist primary school in Namibia also re-opened its doors after 62 years.

Both Union College and Southwestern Adventist University welcomed new presidents this year, while Southern Adventist University and Andrews University announced the retirement of their long-standing presidents (19 years and 22 years, respectively), and began the intensive presidential search process. Additionally, former president of Oakwood College and General Conference vice president, Dr. Delbert Baker, accepted a call to serve as the Vice Chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa in Kenya.

Many of our colleges and universities took part in noteworthy endeavors during this past year. La Sierra University received national recognition for its community service and engagement work. Walla Walla University debuted its new media ministry master’s program this fall, while the Andrews University School of Architecture unveiled its Tiny House Project. Andrews was also again ranked as the second most ethnically diverse campus in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Newbold College in England launched a new publishing venture, Newbold Academic Press, while Avondale College in Australia was granted self-accrediting authority by the country’s national regulator.

The tensions and conversations taking place on our college campuses this year reflected the rumblings of the nation and the world. A planned-and-denied bake sale at Andrews University intended to raise funds for homeless LGBT youth caught the interest of national and international media, bringing unwanted scrutiny to Andrews and the Adventist church for its treatment and opinions of LGBT individuals. In the aftermath, the unofficial student group that had planned the fundraiser brought in over $17,000 thanks in large part to the news of the banned bake sale going viral, while Andrews announced the initiation of a task force to address LGBT youth homelessness, who are a disproportionate subset of the homeless population.

Racial tensions also surfaced during a year when the nation mourned repeatedly at the loss of black men and women who died at the hands of outright police brutality, questioning circumstances, and racist acts of violence against black churches.

After a sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend by Dwight K. Nelson, senior pastor at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University, a petition went up calling for the eradication of regional conferences. Shortly thereafter, the student leadership at Andrews held a forum questioning the need for state and regional conferences, ending with a request to the North American Division asking for a formal response concerning conference structure. The NAD posted an official response a couple of weeks later affirming the role of regional conferences. However, in June, the Lake Union Conference did acknowledge that racism led to the formation of regional conferences and formally apologized.

This apology followed a few months after Union College issued an apology for the past racism that occurred on its campus. The apology letter was initially drafted by members of the student body the previous year, later gaining the approval of new president, Dr. Vinita Sauder, and later Union’s Board of Trustees, before being officially posted on the college’s website in March.

Also in March, Andrews University president, Niels-Erik Andreasen, issued a formal apology to the Andrews community after a student wrote what many referred to as a racist and tone-deaf article in the university’s official student newspaper, the Student Movement.

Tensions also arose at Andrews University and Pacific Union College this year concerning allowing those who do not share the Adventist faith to teach or speak to Adventist young adults. At Andrews, esteemed physical therapy professor, Dr. Lori Walton, was dismissed after admitting she had converted to Islam. At PUC, Ryan Bell was disinvited by president of PUC, Heather Knight, from speaking to students about his 2014 project, “A Year Without God,” and his new project, “Life After God.” Psychology professor, Aubyn Fulton, who had invited Bell to speak issued a response to President Knight’s decision.

Loma Linda faced issues of its own this year. Executive Director of Marketing at Loma Linda University Health was arrested on charges of embezzlement and grand theft at the beginning of 2015. The year ended in tragedy for the Loma Linda community with the San Bernardino mass shooting occurring just a mere three miles away, and Loma Linda University Medical Center tending to the victims.

Indeed, it was a year where tragedy struck many of our Adventist campuses in turn. Union College gymnast, Heather Boulais, was seriously injured in January after a life-threatening fall during a practice session. More than seven months later, Ms. Boulais was finally released from the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. In February, Walla Walla University student, Madison (Maddy) Baird, passed away after being fatally struck by a motor vehicle. Also in February, Akim Zhigankov, a young missionary in the Philippines, whose parents are professors at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines, died of alleged poisoning. Southern Adventist University mourned the sudden passing of student, Kimberly Andreu in March. That same month, Seventh-day Adventist Labuiywo Primary School in Kenya lost three young students in a dorm fire. Pacific Union College senior, Jayaram Notestine, was tragically killed in a car crash in May. Indianapolis Junior Academy lost Principal Norris Ncube in a fatal car accident in October. In December, both La Sierra University and Andrews University were touched by tragedy as well. LSU student Nicholas Carver, who suffered from a medical condition that causes seizures, was found unresponsive in the dorm and was unable to be revived. Andrews student Whitney Watson, passed away on a skiing trip with her father over winter break.

Overall, it was a turbulent year for our Adventist educational institutions. There was tragedy interlaced with joy, and both successes and scandals marked the year. Most importantly, however, another year of educating Adventist young people has occurred and a newly minted group of graduates have left their respective campuses to pursue what God has called them toward.

Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org. She has also written for Spectrum's Millennial Voices Section and has covered Adventist Education.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7257
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Priorities. It all comes down to priorities. With a top-heavy administrative structure, too much money is funnelled into administrator salaries, secretary salaries, travel, and the like. It seems unfathomable that the number of administrators is about equal to the number of pastors in the denomination. What does that say about priorities?


Whatever happened to the “STUDY” by Andrews regarding the “Homeless subset – the LGBTQ community around Andrews”?
Sounds like it was pushed under the rug after the newspaper and TV cameras left.
Andrew’s fiasco did net over $17,000. A whole lot more than would have netted at a campus bake sale.
For this we CAN thank Andrews Administration and their crankiness towards students doing like Jesus.

The 26% of parents having school age kids is about the same for Ga-Cumberland Conf of 28%. And as it says many parents are keeping their high school kids at home. And I would say, if anything like my church, most are going to a private school. A few to public high.
Besides Academics, WHAT are the boarding SDA schools teaching in the form of life skills?
On-line learning seems like a good alternative for some students. Something like that could go World-Wide via the Internet.
Periodically have regional student week-end association activities. Perhaps Christmas or Summer mission trips available in either the US or Foreign.


Hmm . . . , apologies for this and that, many people in a dither over the wise decision by Heather Knight to ban Ryan Bell from speaking on campus, but no mention of the major damage to Milo Academy in Oregon. More than 2 weeks ago a major winter storm did $2,000,000 worth of damage, causing them to cancel classes and start Christmas vacation more than week early. Insurance will not cover all of the damage. They still need to raise half a million dollars to complete the repairs.

Failure is a topic most of us would rather avoid. But ignoring obvious (and subtle) warning signs of the troubles we are facing is a surefire way to end up on the wrong side of church success/survival statistics. We need more Jeremiah type persons today who are willing to tell the truth to God’s people.

In addition to the problems and challenges this article by Alisa Williams refers to in the context of our educational program in the Adventist church, there are many more equally challenging problems with systemic failures within our SDA denomination that need our focused attention.

When local churches are shrinking their outreach to youth, seniors, and the un-churched, when Adventist Health Systems has to pay a fraud penalty of $120 million (and no one is held accountable), when over 620 thousand church members are removed from our church records due to poor recordkeeping, when the Adventist tithe dollar is being stretched beyond reason, when independent ministries outside the church are calling the shots theologically, when discriminatory practices prevail within the church (women’s ordination issue and it’s aftermath), when the Publishing and Education ministry of the church is lagging further and further behind, we are in deep trouble!

With this information as a backdrop, apart from the obvious spiritual failure inherent in these situations, I present a list of 10 common reasons why we are in a serious crisis mode as we enter 2016.

  1. Failure to understand the ever changing needs of those we serve.
  2. Avoiding peer review, exit interviews, honest on going self-analysis.
  3. Failure to understand and communicate what you are about to our constituents.
  4. Inadequate knowledge of fundraising and lack of financial accountability.
  5. Reactive administrative attitudes that promote defensiveness.
  6. Nepotism, we hire persons we cannot fire.
  7. No strategy for effective youth ministry, recruitment, input.
  8. Not knowing when to say “No” to independent ministries
  9. Failure to promote engagement, alignment, and ownership within laity.
  10. Remnant Inevitability Syndrome. “We are too big to fail” mindset.

“Surely the harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” Jeremiah 8;20


boarding academy was designed by the devil. first fourteen is too early to leave a Christainhome with two loving Christain parents. second the deans of men and women have not a clue one what goes on above them. Three the ill managed are the first to be sent away from home. Thank God all three of my children survived. I will spare the horror stories to make my case. tom Z

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Adventist University of the Philippines College of Medicine Pioneer Class 2019

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I agree 1000%, Tom. As a convert to SDAism back in the mid 70’s at age 24, even then I thought that the idea of sending children away from home was horrendous. I had determined that I would never do that, and I never did. Why in the world would I want my child to leave home during some of the most important years of their life for someone else to raise most of the year? If I wanted some else to raise my child, I might as well not have them.


Such a spoil-sport: Indoctrination is the ChristoMurican way!

Pass The Peace.

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Thanks for noting the Milo story. It’s not one that we covered on the Spectrum Website, though it is a significant story. The Adventist Review provided a full report, to which you are presumably referring. That story is HERE.

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Having been an academy teacher, church pastor on the boards of two academies and our local church school, and having been a college president, my take is somewhat different, though not necessarily contradictory.

First, SDA education was a major step forward educationally and academically for our members when our founders urged the creation of schools. The original motivation was to “train workers” for the task ahead. They wanted well-educated people to staff schools, churches and our healthcare institutions. This is during a period when only the elite in society had more than a high school education and a relatively few had even that.

Second, Ellen White abhorred the structure of elementary school education which required a strict behavior in class (with corporal punishment for miscreants) and no outdoor play. It was unhealthy and destructive of child development.

Third, the best Christians are “intellectual” ones, meaning people who know how to read the Bible and the Great books, think analytically and so on. If one looks at the early curriculum requirements in our colleges (which I have) you would be surprised at the kinds of courses which are offered (moral reasoning?).

Fourth, public education ignored the Bible and certainly how SDA’s interpreted it. By itself, this seemed a strong justification for our own schools. Like Judaism, the Sabbath observance of SDA’s limited our students in a culture that did not respect the religious liberty of all–only those who kept Sunday.

Fifth, given the low numbers of Adventists in the USA, to begin with, how could Adventist young people meet and marry each other?

Sixth, education at every level was so inexpensive students could work their way through their schooling (not “easy” but “doable”). Hence, church and family support for tuition, etc, was remarkably reduced.

Seventh, since almost all SDA schools up until the late 50’s prepared college graduates for church employment, the networking done in an SDA college was invaluable for future employment. As the church’s need has diminished, SDA networking is less valuable, which is why many colleges are making efforts to network outside the church with local businesses, etc.

All this has changed.*

  1. SDA education is no longer a major step forward vis-a-vis public education. The entire culture now realizes that, in this rapidly changing economic environment and the contemporary requirements for leadership, a college degree is now almost a minimum.

  2. Early education has awakened to the true needs of children and abandoned the destructive policies of the past.

  3. Many Adventist young people have found that a quality education can be obtained in the public sector while they stay home, attend their local church, and avoid a crippling debt. Furthermore, students of mine 45 years ago now send their children (if they can afford it) to the Ivy League schools and other top Universities for a higher quality education (though I would argue that the truly huge institutions have deficits a small school does not). We generally cannot serve the very best students and the marginal at the same time, especially since we have relatively small schools with small faculties. Even with teaching assistants at larger universities with graduate programs, we find it difficult to match what they do in many areas. Smaller elite colleges (Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin) are structured (as are SDA schools) to give college students access to the professors and not only TA’s. And, their academic requirement are almost always more rigorous and require a better prepared student body. We have an elite system in this country from private schools (elementary and secondary) to private colleges and universities which few can truly afford.

  4. Keeping the Sabbath is no longer the acute religious liberty problem it was in the beginning. Most students can arrange for exams to be held for them on another day than the Sabbath if it is necessary. However, without a strong youth and college ministry in local churches, the needs for religion classes that educate SDA young people about our history and theological development, remains.

  5. This is still a challenge and may be the most fearful outcome for parents of not sending their offspring to an SDA college. However, since young people are marrying later, have ample options to travel and meet other Adventists in large youth gatherings and have both telephone and internet capabilities, this issue is largely mitigated, it seems to me.

  6. SDA education, like education everywhere, is not financially manageable with students working on campus. I see students all the time who are attending public universities and colleges, going to school for a year or two and then dropping out to work so they can pay their bills and go back. Granted, government loans have made SDA education “affordable” for many, but the debt burden is now crushing many SDA families and even threatening the US economy.

  7. SDA young people who have high ambitions (think Dr. Ben Carson, e.g.), intellectual capacity and a strong work ethic undeniably limit their future opportunities if they are not networking (and impressing) the public and private leaders who are watching them in the best schools. If they live in the dormitories, they may room with a high government or private sector leader (Senator’s child, Ford Motor Company Executives child) whose parents can open doors for them upon graduation that are otherwise closed. I have seen this time and time again.

Conclusion: We need to rethink SDA education at every level if we want it to survive in any viable form.


That was one SDA way that I couldn’t abide!

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Your #4 if probably the MOST important issue for the Local Church.
Presenting the High School Bible classes to Academy Age [ages 14 to 17,18] persons.
Old and New Testament, Life of Jesus, Bible Doctrines, the old Facing Life materials.
For this age group of Stay At Home Sabbath School needs to be what it says – A SCHOOL with a planned program with Lesson Plans for the 4 years. With “home work” during the week to turn in and discuss.
Perhaps on Prayer Meeting night, the students could meet.
This would give 2 class times a week of 1 hour classes each.

Regarding Boarding School.

  1. It forces a person to become independent and self-reliant.
  2. “A Job”. This forces a person to become RESPONSIBLE. They have to meet the expectations of the job, of the supervisor, and those they are working with [other students in the department].
  3. Not much room for “whining”.
  4. Develops social skills.

I enjoyed my experience in Boarding Academy. Was good for me and for my friends. It helped me choose my Nursing Career. 55 years since graduation, and I am still friends and in contact with my friends of those days. Go on camping outing in the Smokies each October. Have been on 2-week mission trip together in Cayman Brac. Class mates were Pathfinder leaders in Chattanooga, assisted with several of their 3-weeks Pathfinder trips to Camporees.
Yes, boarding academy was not plush [one year when it was 5 degrees below outside, it was 5 degrees above in my room, and the wood stove was in the bathroom. Everyone just dressed in the bathroom in themorning and went to the Cafeteria for breakfast where it was warm]. But we survived. And we grew. When I took a pre-Nursing test at Madison, a year later after graduation, I learned a number of years later that I made the highest score on the test over students coming from a “better” school.
So my Academics were not inferior.
I sent my 2 kids to Academy. My oldest to Pine Forest, Castle Valley, Laurelbrook. My youngest to Laurelbrook, Weimar Academy. I would do it again. I think they would also.

You are correct. Look at all the great kids that come out of the Sunday Churches. I do see the Sunday Churches having a program aimed at the Youth of their church to encourage Adulthood proactively.
I think much of the time Local SDA churches tend to push this on the Academies. Have a limited youth program toward those not in Academy.

[quote=“niteguy2, post:13, topic:10206”]
Regarding Boarding School.1. It forces a person to become independent and self-reliant.2. “A Job”. This forces a person to become RESPONSIBLE. They have to meet the expectations of the job, of the supervisor, and those they are working with [other students in the department].3. Not much room for “whining”.4. Develops social skills.
[/quote]People have learned these skills for many, many (hundreds and thousands) years without going to a boarding school. It’s part of growing up and maturing. That is the parents job to make sure that their child progresses to adulthood with the skills and abilities to be a productive, responsible, caring adult.

If you enjoyed your time at boarding school, good. I don’t doubt many people did. But to become a mature, responsible, socially capable adult, doesn’t require being sent from the home. It really does happen all the time.


Your list of the true state of SDA education is excellent. From my perspective as a parent of teenagers and former parent/board member from within the SDA educational system, I appreciate such an honest look at this issue from a former leader.

SDA education has immeasurably improved my family for three generations. It took my grandparents out of near-poverty and plunked them solidly into the middle and upper class of American society. It allowed them to meet and marry and then produce the next generation who met and married at SDA institutions. And my husband’s family is exactly the same. And yes, my husband and I met at an SDA school.

My husband and I have followed the trend (70%) and made a different choice for our own children. But not until we tried SDA schools for eight years. We put a lot of effort into making it work. We left exasperated, shaking our heads as to how a system which had functioned for so long, had been totally unable to adapt and grow and was also determined to remain blind to its own faults.

I read that the NAD is having an education summit this year–I hope you will be there with this list! :smile:

While money is in short supply in many SDA schools, I believe that no amount of money could ever fix the issues we face. The problems are fundamental and require an honest look at what education really is and why we have schools at all.


There is an administrative/structural impediment to significant change in Adventist education. Local churches control elementary schools which means that if there are two or three underfunded and poorly subscribed schools, they cannot merge without each church voting to do it. Much too frequently, each one wants to hold on to its “own” school.

Academies are local conference institutions and can only be merged in a constituency meeting–tough to get two conferences to cooperate and do that if it makes sense.

Colleges – local unions (except the GC institutions). Again how do you achieve the economies of scale when constituents do not wish to lose “their” college?

The structure made sense in the beginning–questionable if it does so now.

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