Dick Osborn on the Future of Higher Ed — Adventist Voices

We kick off a new series focused on Adventist education with Richard Osborn, PhD, Vice President for WASC Senior College and University Commission. Previously, he was President of Pacific Union College and an education administrator for the North American Division. Based on his current work accrediting educational institutions around the Western United States and his work on an NAD commission, Dr. Osborn shares his unbridled concerns about the direction of Adventist higher education and offers some models for how it might change for the better.

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Further Reading:

Can a Signature Program Save Your College?” by Lawrence Biemiller from The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required).

Alexander Carpenter is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Image credit: SpectrumMagazine.org

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9895

Higher means beyond what? Seems Elder Ted Wilson would set limits. The Gospel story that has great appeal for me is the healing of the centurions son at a great distance. So to argue about origins has no merit for a 94 year old man.

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Two main observations - 1) Great job Alex and Spectrum putting this out there. Fascinating, provoking, sobering discussion of our most essential institutional crisis - Adventist education. This extends beyond just colleges and academy level to the whole system. Now we have very valuable insight into thinking in our leadership.

  1. How is it possible that the readership is not responding to this matter? Could it be that this silence is an insight in itself into the underlying apathy about education that is causing our steady decline?

One further observation - Dr Osborn has a clear mind and faces reality well. I credit him for that. However, he seems to lack two things - first, a real understanding of the crisis that faces our faith here in the Northeast US and second, the devastating effect the closing of AUC has which has exacerbated this crisis. Morale is very low, brother, and your clinical attitude will not help. When our kids leave here for distant colleges, they don’t come back. Why is this happening among Adventists in a region where people are generally attracted by it’s wonderful lifestyle opportunities? So be realistic about that too. Why is this happening?

I do like the “Dominican Experience” concept and feel it can be implemented well in the Northeast. We are just starting an online high school right here outside Boston (“One Connection Academy”) and that technological opportunity will only work for us if carries the “Adventist Experience” along with it.


But we need a sense of urgency at the highest level for our kids not only in the Northeast but across the US!! Why accept decline of 12% in enrollment?? We have a burgeoning immigrant membership with huge numbers of college age kids for whom higher ed would be a great path to stability and domestic tranquillity. They are drifting out of Adventist Education because it is not accessible and because of lack of promotion of Adventist education from the pulpit and Adventist media.

Shouldn’t there be a constant drumbeat on Hope Channel, as well as 3ABN, supporting education and the schools?

For this lack, the leadership is to blame (local pastors initially, but the apathy extends right up the ladder!). There is no shortage of impassioned pleading in the writings of Sister White.

So let’s get busy with innovative programs. NAD promised to do that for the NE and have had deafening silence. And by the way, let’s not squander the fabulous resource that the AUC campus is - put it to use in the Gospel work in modern ways, including education.

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Enrollment results are trailing indicators. They are a result of many things including perception, policy, and actual performance of the schools. If they are to change, the schools will need to change first.

Perhaps partially. However, most of the Adventists I know are not sending their kids to an Adventist college for other reasons including lack of desired degrees, quality of education, student life policies, and so on. And they’re really happy with their choices.

Some of the most conservative parents I know recently sent their kid to PUC. She hated it - lasted only a year. Now she’s at what I like to call a “real school” and loves it. She’s blossomed. I have seen this pattern repeated more than once in our little SDA community.

Based on my own experience with the Adventist system, I didn’t even consider Adventist colleges for my kids. I spent more effort in college railing against institutional stupidity than I did learning anything. All I really wanted was to be treated as an adult. Good luck with that at any of our schools.

And now with hindsight I’m glad I made that call. My kids are getting a “real” college experience that is in all likelihood preparing them for the real world in ways the cloistered and restrictive culture I experienced at college never could have.


I would like to see Adventist higher education address current problems, for example, dealing with climate change and related environmental issues, integrating migrating persons and families into local society, creating art—of all genres—that draws communities together in generous ways, learning public service as a moral and ethical good. These areas of study are historically on the fringe of Adventist higher education, but it seems to me, their time is now. None are well-suited for fully on-line courses; significant mentoring and hands-on practice would be required for each.

I would like to see Adventist higher education offer degrees that incorporate acceptable completion of on-line (sometimes free) coursework from other institutions of higher learning, and from accredited institutions in other nations.

Concerns are valid as to the demise of social and spiritual aspects when Adventist higher education is not chosen, or when an Adventist college or university closes. Young adults may lead out in finding their own consortiums of churches, regions, areas of interest. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, as a corporate body, may need to get out of the way.


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