An Open Letter to Adventist College Presidents

We almost have to scrap everything and start over, since it’s a very tangled mess of regulation, liability issues, and insurance bureaucracy… in which docs have to play a bereaucrat more than they spend time listening to and treating patients.

I think if I would socialize anything, it would be medical education, which would be free, and thus very competitive to get into. It also adds the idea of public investing in medical professionals, who would likely have a different perspective on patient treatment, and making it more affordable.

The overall structure of insentives would need to be changed. There should be more support for physicians running private practices. Likewise, there should be very clear and competitive price structure for services rendered.

Medical world is one of the few places where you consent to buying something without knowing how much it will cost you upfront in many cases. That would need to change.


It seems that some countries structure their education programs to mitigate the cost. Here in Japan I sent my son to an Ivy league school (Keio University) for less than 10K per year.

While some countries have less costs I consider myself fortunate to be here in Japan where the same education costs just a fraction.

If some countries have this figured out it is sad that the US is not learning from its neighbors.

Just curious, are you Japanese or an immigrant?

US citizen but resident of Japan

things that are possible in other countries simply wouldn’t fly in america’s brand of rabid capitalism, where each person has the theoretical possibility to become a billionaire, but obviously won’t…to be fair, countries like canada, with a milder form of capitalism, also have expensive education systems…student debt is an issue up here, too…

what kind of salaries do professors in japan earn…

Japan all-together have a more cohesive societal ideology, and it begins with early education…

Just a small example of how Japanese kids eat lunch in schools:

It’s an ideology predicated on serving others, which is instilled from the early age. We had that in former USSR, and that’s perhaps was one of the positive aspects there. You’ll have to turn on the subtitles, since much of it is in Japanese.

There are many aspects of the educational experience for which older generations have expressed nostalgia–the demise of school farms etc. The “half day school” is a new one. I have a couple of problems with the reasoning expressed in this missive. UCLA and the UC system that requires 4 English, 4 Math, Science etc. is not the problem. It is a fact of the modern world that globalization and the advance of knowledge requires more time on task. Anyone with grandchildren will find that the concepts and topics in middle school are the ones we studied in high school in many cases. More, requires more.

Second, a minimum wage job for a few hours a day has little hope of keeping up with the galloping costs of education whether at the private secondary school level or the collegiate level. The higher education price index has advanced at double digits for years, as has the cost of education at other levels. My 1964 annual tuition bill at a mid-west SDA college (also attended by the author of the letter) was $820. My hourly was was $125 and I could make $500 to $600 during summer employment. If the cost of attendance has been a straight line of the CPI, that tuition bill today would be in the range of $12,000 to $15,000. About the cost of a public higher education institution. The amount now doesn’t cover the cost a private secondary school education.

There is a third factor at work as well. The older generation looking back were willing to let their children leave home at age 14 or perhaps 16. Contemporary parents are loath to let go of the controls of the family helicopter. I was glad my wife and I had those kinds of parents who valued the nurturing of independence in their children. And, I am glad we followed the same path for our son–and he is too, But, there are a lot of things out parents accepted, or tolerated, or even promoted that modern parents can not bring themselves to do.

While I’m enumerating my dissent with the writer, I’ll add that many SDA parents, as they have moved up the socio-economic ladder, do not consider SDA colleges to have the perceived prestige they want for their $40,000+ a year outlay for their children’s collegiate education. I think they are wrong, but it is their money and these are their children.

In an ideal world this is what I would wish for every young student. First, that they would be able to stretch their wings at age 16 and attend a residential high school where they can learn self-discipline and independence, make life-long friends, have fun, and learn the value of having mentors, not just teachers. I would wish that every student have a residential collegiate experience where they can continue their journey, rather than just pursue a “destination” college graduation and an aggregation of class credit hours.

The world has changed and we must move with it. There is a difference between moving on and moving forward.


Part of the problem (besides remuneration) between the Professions and the Trades is respect. My dad was the lead building contractor on a large SDA church and school, but the Dr’s on the committee always had more influence and respect. Every Steve Jobs or Elon Musk needs qualified professionals to build their homes, build the roads they drive on, cut and style their hair (Not so much for Steve on that one), grow, package, transport, shelve the foods they eat, teach and provide care for their children and elderly parents. These service providers need the honor and respect of the tech internet and financial geek squad. I agree that designated trade schools are needed and will never be obsolete. Trade schools need to change with the times too, becoming more professional and demanding both the respect and remuneration. We certainly need these people in Idaho - geez, can’t anybody frame a house for all those incoming Californians?? Some of our colleges need to re-tool for this before they go under (PUC, pay attention!).


Hello all,

I attended Thunderbird Adventist Academy from 1994-98, and we had the half-work/half-class schedule. There was both a packaging plant and the furniture factory (“the mill”), as well as groundskeeping and teaching assistant/clerical work. We were allowed to work from the age of 14 (16 to work at the mill), so I got my first full-time summer job the day after I graduated from 8th grade. Though I felt it a gross injustice at the time, I am forever thankful for the work ethic it gave me. Our 1st period class began at 6:52am and we worked and attended classes until 13th period ended at 6:06pm. College and graduate school was in many ways easier, because the schedules were much better than what I had experienced in academy.

If I may, I would propose an additional reason why academy enrollments are dropping that are not related to increased college admissions standards (most or all of which are dictated by our regional accrediting bodies). This is the large number of scandals (financial, sexual, etc.) that have plagued academies over the years; old ones that have come to light, as well as fresh scandals. Academies are not the only church institutions subject to scandal, but they are certainly an important one, as we send our children there unattended (especially with boarding academies).

Finally, I want to respond to the following statement:

This begs the question, what is the primary purpose of SDA higher education? Is it to shelter Adventist students from the world? If so, that proverbial horse has long left the barn; with modern communications and digital technologies, “the world” exists everywhere. Is it ONLY for Adventist students? I would argue that our colleges and universities (and I teach at one, so “our” is deliberate) can be missionary institutions, introducing non-SDA and non-Christian students to Christ and the Adventist message, while also serving to train our SDA students. We certainly do not (or should not) reserve our churches only for current SDA members, but hope to grow them through evangelization. Our higher ed institutions can do just that kind of work, and is a strong argument for their existence.




The author of this essay appreciated reading the responding considerations, thoughts, and discussions brought forward in response to the various issues addressed in this letter to college presidents regarding school finance. It seems also appropriate to mention some subsequent clarification and observations.

Unlike my friend Rick mentioned in the essay, most students did not pay of their full tuition costs with their half time campus job but most made an important financial contribution. That extra $500 the student earned, combined with help from the parents, was what enable the family budget to fill in the missing amount to keep the kid in school. In regards to my friend Glenn, I do not know the details of Glenn’s home life but I know he pretty well lived at the school year round. He worked at the broom shop half days during the school year and all day most of the summer. The broom shop and its manager along with the rest of us were kind of Glenn’s family. Without the on-campus employment there would have been no Adventist education for Glenn.

I didn’t work off my full tuition but my folks said it was cheaper to have me at school than at home and we paid full out-of-local-conference tuition. As a teacher I had parents who worked two jobs a piece and sold tacos on the weekend to keep their three kids in Adventist schools. I had a teaching colleague that once said, “I didn’t know it until I became an adult, but in reality my folks really didn’t have any living room furniture when I was a teenager in order to keep us kids in school.” The school I have been affiliated with, both as a student and as a teacher, student jobs helped many families to participate in the Adventist school system. Each day when we teachers enter the classroom we need to keep that in mind as well as should a whole lot of other people. Generally there is not one solution to any big problem but if there is one solution to this problem it is commitment and student labor has traditionally been part of that committment.

As one respondent to this essay mentioned there are labor laws and other regulations that continuously crop up that schools have to deal with when running work programs. A couple of years ago the teachers at my school were told that there was a new law that now made it illegal to have a student worker come in during a student’s free period between classes and work as a teacher’s reader grading papers, helping to set of the equipment for a chemistry lab, etc. Actually it is almost impossible for a kid to work at all. In these highly litigious days one is foolish to have a neighborhood kid come and mow his lawn because if someone become injured on or off the property the finical consequences of a lawsuit could render you the one mowing someone’s lawn in the future. These days a prudent property owner should insure that anyone hired to work on your property is bonded, licenced, insured, etc. because if anyone get’s hurt the property owner is ultimately responsible. The paper work, the risk, and government rules and regulations make it almost impossible for a kid to get hired even as a bag boy at a market or be a simple errand runner. Boarding schools are handling these stipulations very well and STILL have work programs but not as they once did mostly because of impacted academic schedules and because industry has been forced to move elsewhere.

Also mentioned by one responder, the school class schedule and it’s variables are the absolute working backbone of any academic campus. I sat in Academy curriculum committees when we were having to make decisions about how we were going to accommodate the necessary changes required because of UCLA’s new admissions requirements. We regularly had students that made application to UCLA, frequently students who got accepted, and parents who wanted their offspring to at least be eligible to apply. Subsequently, within two or three years we were also reviewing new admission requirements from PUC, La Sierra, Southern, and others which reflected nearly identically the admissions requirements previously instituted by UCLA. Curious, I began to explore other well-known public university admissions requirements and they seemed to mirror UCLA almost identically.

An additional requirement to graduate from our school was a 25 hours per year work experience which many students obtained from being employed part-time, or participating in the volunteer program at the local hospital. They were thrilled to have our students and the student gained many good employment experiences even in the volunteer program which often led to getting hired later on. About five years after we built these increased college entrance accommodations into our curriculum, I happened to pass by the volunteer office in the hospital and out of curiosity stuck my head in to see how many of our kids they had in the volunteer program. NONE. The supervisor said she had been with the volunteer program for three years and didn’t know any high school kids had ever been in the program. I drew the conclusions the kids simply had no time left in their day because of the new high school academic loads. It is arguable that there were other reasons but I never heard of any reports of problems with students working in the hospital.

In all fairness it should also be noted that the nudge toward increased graduation requirements actually began a couple of years before colleges began increasing their entrance requirements and as a result of the now somewhat since maligned NATION AT RISK report. Sitting in the Glendale Academy curriculum committee discussing the impact these new “Nation at Risk” recommendations were going to have on the high school curriculum, the math and science departments said, “This is going to kill the electives programs in schools.” Some years later mainstream media began to report that there are no arts and music programs in high schools. Technical programs and Home Economics (where one learns about proper nutrition) are long extinct.

One responder refers to the numerous accrediting agencies to which an institution of higher learning must answer as well as its individual specialized professional programs (nursing etc.) Using due caution here, wanting to be careful not to be cavalier or careless in asking legitimate questions, or being considered critical in anyway of a valuable system, it is never-the-less legitimate to ask how much of these accrediting specifics and details, and other similar types of requirements instituted, really reflect assessed and true essentials? How much of the accrediting specifics are essential and how much has nonessential preference crept into the accreditation requirements? How much falls into the category of “Although not an essential it would be really, really, nice to have . . .” which then becomes part of the standards the institution must incorporate. Any nonessential standards and requirements ultimately ends up as a costly add-on to the school program and student tuition.

How much are these inadvertent best of intentions (and sometime selfish and personal intentions) overwhelming an organization’s or institutions’s ability to function in a practical, efficient, useful, and and productive manner. For example, if you ask your high school history teacher how many years of history and social studies a teenager should have in high school, because of the teachers devotion and committed confidence in the importance of their subject matter, the history teacher is likely to say “Four years, preferably five if we could work it into the schedule”. If he were give power of decision over the curriculum just how many history classes would be added to the schedule because of his personal preference?

I’m acquainted with the construction of a new hospital built not long ago which involved the approvals, credentialing, and certification of a lot of approving bodies with one very important state approving agency called ASHPD as the hospital was in the state of California. During one ASHPD visit the inspector mentioned that he was not happy with the installation of a particular item of equipment and that tens of thousands of dollars in revisions needed to be made. When it was called to the inspector’s attention that the item was installed in a manner that actually exceeded the previously approved requirements, including those receiving ASHPD’s previous approval, the inspector said, “Well it doesn’t meet my approval”. The tens of thousands of dollars of correction, insisted upon by the inspector, were made because the costs of delaying further construction, to raise a legitimate dispute, would exceed the costs to make the reinstallation of the equipment. It was just better to go along and get along.

Likewise, who wants the academic reputation of having created unnecessary problems with the school’s accrediting agency by questioning perceived unnecessary requirements that add to the cost of education. When as a teacher we faced our own periodic process of accreditation we did chuckle and scratch or heads over certain time consuming, cost consuming, often newly added accreditation requirements. But we always did our best to make honest, credible, and professional changes as required while saying among ourselves “This really doesn’t seem to make much sense but we just have to do it. We don’t want to make any waves. Just ignore it and give them what they want.” Even though there were always questions by the teachers and the administration about the sensibility and feasibility of some requirements it was always agreed not to buck the system but just ignore it and give them what they want. Thus accumulating each time more and more requirements that had to be met – and paid for. Many of these well intentioned and ever growing requirements are overwhelming, not only the talented administrators. but the institutions themselves.

The question is, in regards to all the agencies that colleges and universities are having to answer to, all schools really, are some of these requirements truly necessary? Are some of the requirements merely an extra layer of preferred frosting on the educational cake and thus overburdening the ability of an institution to survive? To stay cost effective? Are there a lot of little unnecessary refinements placed upon these institutions by accreditors, by insurance companies, by state and federal laws, ad infin nauseam, that are crushing down on the institution’s administration and overwhelming the institution itself . . . and the cost to operate the institution, albeit with the “best of intentions”?

Often we try to solve big problems with one big solution. The solution I suggest about making room for the academy half school/half day work program is not THE solution. Generally big problems are caused by the collection of many varied factors. The ability of a kid to work and help pay off some of the tuition is one of those factors, or it was since the very inception of Adventist schools. Often among educators the problem solving solution mentioned is one of Endowment. “If only or schools had good endowments many of the problems of financing our schools would go away.” In the 2008 recession Harvard announced the recession’s effect had been so detrimental to its endowment (one of the largest educational endowments in the world) it was being faced with the possible reduction in professorial staff. There is not one magic bullet. There are many small factors that when collected together help solve big problems. Student employment is one of those ways in academy and college. What are some other solutions comprising this pool of resources that solves the problem of educational costs?

Feeling it was appropriate to notify college presidents about this Spectrum essay I emailed several with a link to the Spectrum website. While observing their institution’s websites I noticed links to “Board of Trustees” and “ Members of the President’s Council” etc., with long lists of names of people involved in making decisions regarding these institutions. I know they discuss and pray about such things but are they, are we, is anybody, actually DOING something. As in “We have a plan and are moving forward. Someone needs to take the risk involved and it shall be us.” Instead it appears all across the educational spectrum, instead of going to from hand wringing to handshaking, we have gone from hand wringing to shoulder shrugging.

Much of the culture of Adventism and its ability to carry out its mission is shaped by this educational system. If it fails the church will be weak and disoriented. Somewhere someone(s) needs to step up and take true leadership. Take some risk to innovate, create, experiment, to solve this problem which is not just a problem in higher education, but is a systemic educational problem.

I appreciate the response above. In the tertiary education system would like to note that accreditation bodies for the professions, especially the health-related ones, often have so many requirements to be assessed and included that many of these programs have limited room in the curriculum for liberal arts courses; forget about elective courses. While I feel this is a problem in many ways, I understand the issues. By the time these students complete required science and other cognates, there just isn’t room for anything else but the professional courses. Some students may manage to complete some AP courses at the secondary level and have a little room in their curriculum, but coursework, including labs, may not leave much time for anything extra. And, for many of these students, once they enter the professional phase of their programs, they don’t have time to work either. While employment at the university level may not pay much of the total bill (tuition, room, board, fees, books, etc.), it can make some difference in the student’s financial picture. At least in some health-related professions, there are high enough salaries to make paying back the loans easier, plus some employers will pay a hiring bonus. However, that isn’t true for all professional programs, health-related or not.

There are no easy solutions. I wish there were.

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