Colleges Confront Money Problems

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Major transitions may be in the offing for at least three Seventh- day Adventist colleges: Pacific Union College, Atlantic Union College, and Columbia Union College.

Pacific Union College faces significant ongoing fiscal challenges. Administrators have sought to address these challenges by means of a plan to develop some of the land owned by PUC and located near the college site. The planned development would lead to an "Angwin eco-village," a "a state-of-the-art 'green' community," according to the college.

Complicating these efforts has been many community members' concern that a projected residential development would disrupt the lifestyle California’s Napa County has worked hard to preserve. County leaders are considering changing development rules in ways that preclude the creation of the "eco-village."

Students were recently excused from classes to participate on October 16 in PUC's efforts to lobby a joint meeting of the county's board of supervisors and planning commission. However, community opposition has led to a "no" vote by the supervisors regarding even the limited development plan proposed by the college. Another meeting of the supervisors concerned with the issue is expected March 4, 2008.

Whereas PUC is "on the verge of real problems," according the alumnus and former La Sierra University president Lawrence Geraty, AUC and CUC can each be said to be confronting a "crisis."

Atlantic Union College is confronting more immediately serious challenges. Administrative and financial difficulties led to serious concern about the college's future on the part of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits AUC. However, although AUC's institutional health and credibility have evidently improved during the past two years from the perspective of the NEASC, a significant revenue shortfall has led to serious concern about its continued viability on the part of at least some of its trustees.

New AUC president Norman Wendth is believed to be mulling a range of options. Some of these apparently involve the significant redefinition of AUC's identity and the adoption of a significantly narrower institutional focus, with the goal of staking a claim to a carefully defined market niche. Wendth has not publicly indicated what course of action he will recommend to the trustees when they meet next month.

Columbia Union College continues to be beset by revenue problems. A recent proposal to transfer control of the college to Adventist Health met with stiff resistance at the college level. However, the college's ongoing financial difficulties have returned the question of CUC's identity to the agenda of its trustees and its acting president, Gaspar Colón.

Approximately twenty-five million dollars could have been created by the sale of the college's radio license, but this plan was rejected by the trustees on September 20 after intense community pressure. Because start-up funds have not been available, the college has also been unable to move forward with plans to draw on state matching funds for new construction. A "summit" meeting regarding the future of the college is planned for the CUC trustees and the executive committees of the constituent conferences.

The challenges that confront these colleges and the diverse responses under consideration highlight the difficulties posed for Adventist higher education by substantial cost increases and the willingness of students and parents to consider a broader range of higher educational options than ever before. They also call attention to the fact that each college seems largely to be facing the future alone, with little assistance beyond the confines of its own constituency.

General Conference-sponsored educational institutions-Loma Linda University, Andrews University, and Oakwood College-may receive additional church funds this year, but additional central church support seems unlikely to be forthcoming for union-sponsored universities and colleges in North America. It remains to be seen whether creative, strategic thinking will prove able to create new and welcome possibilities for Adventist higher education at this difficult time.

Gary Chartier is an assistant professor of law and business ethics at La Sierra University.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at