Oakwood Personnel Cuts Reveal Troubling Trend in Adventist Higher Education

The purpose of our educational system is to give our kids a foundation and religious developmental experience that will keep them in our churches as active, participating and giving back to the organization that they grew out of. This is why we still have local churches, local conferences, unions (although I will say I still don’t see the validity of regional conferences existing within regional unions) Divisions and the GC. If we educate locally, in a truly Christ centered method, our kids will either return to their roots or seek out a new homestead that hopefully will have the same educational system in place - all so that the process can be repeated. If our churches leadership fails to recognize that this is the area within our church ranks that will generate the largest return on “their reinvestment” then in short order their positions will be defunded next… Evangelism dollars MUST be reinvested in our entire educational system or our current church structure will be at risk of severe cuts…Dollars follow the children! Proud parent of 3 kids who have attended SDA Schools from Pre-K - 12th Grade (South Lancaster Academy - the first SDA School in New England, founded in part by EG White, and the longest continuously operating Adventist school in existence) 2graduates of Andrews University and one to graduate in 2017. Because of our schools these kids are still interested and participating in our church today!


What we need are Industries associated with SDA colleges where students could earn money for tuition.
Perhaps the Industries could offer gifts to the colleges toward operating expenses. Perhaps ways could be made so that less actual CASH was needed for College employees wages.
If College CASH expenses went down, perhaps tuitions could also go down in price.
Serious inquiry needs to be made along this line.

The Denomination General Funds are not a Cash Cow. They are limited. We cannot print our own money. It has to come from Taxing our members [tithes and offerings]. Perhaps not everyone NEEDS to be in a dormitory setting at one of our Colleges. On-Line teaching is not big in SDA circles, like I see Advertising for a lot of other On-Line University programs offered. THIS needs to be seriously explored.

Have we over-built our SDA Colleges?

Oakwood is just ONE of several General Conference Funded Institutions. Not controlled by any Union. Its original purpose WAS for segregated education, in times when an institution was needed for a SAFE place for persons of color to be able to obtain higher education. Oakwood was also a place where persons of color from other Nations came for higher education.
So controls of hiring and Firing was a responsibility of the General Conference. And WHO is allowed to monitor the General Conference to say, Hold It!!!

Adventist News Site.
The Compass Magazine.com
Beginning a 4-part series on Racial Issues in the Church.
"It is Time to Talk an Honest Discussion about Segregated Conferences in the SDA Church.


This issue indicates to me that the entire system is in trouble…not just educational, but denominational. We have come out of a year where a contentious GC session highlighted the fact that this is a denomination that is deeply divided. We have ideological chasms that reflect the political polarization found through much of the world. And, we have a world leader who is fueling such a divide with his take no prisoners quest for ideological purity.

In addition to this, we have an educational system that is finding it increasingly difficult to remain financially solvent, that puts students into crushing debt, and that is relying more and more on underpaid, overworked staffers, like many other American colleges and universities. In the meantime, it seems that Adventist schools are falling further behind the curve in the quality of course offerings, and in terms of technological flexibility.

The denial expressed by the president of Oakwood, concerning the financial capacities of Adventist families, is matched by the denial that we seem to be in over our outdated evangelistic programs and methods (at least in the developed world), stagnating and dying churches, and our over century old organizational structure. What do they say about doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results?

When the machinery stops serving its purpose, which is to serve people, and increasingly exists to perpetuate itself, upheaval is needed. We are getting to that place, if we aren’t already there.
What that will look like, I don’t know…but we need to have the courage to break the cycle of organizational denial and dysfunction.

New wine can only be poured into new wineskins.




Ted is just looking at the dire consequences. why pay 45-60 thousand to be brain washed. Quality higher education in Georgia is within commuting distance for almost all college age students. So what needs to be done is a Gospel based hone church. That is one centered on the Cross not the IJ . Tom Z


As with everything else its completely tied to benefits, perks and retirement packages.
Its amazing that they expect regular people to not only pay those rates for their kids but pay 70% of teachers and Pastors kids as well.
In the end what you have is regular people paying huge amounts for education. These people dont have the paid sick days, paid vacation days, paid holidays or any of the other perks the denomination employees get and yet they are made to pay the brunt of this as if they are somehow better off than the poor conference workers whos kids deserve to pay only 30% of the amount the average members kid pays.
Its an atrocity.


Let the Adventist church put their money where their mouth is. Fund their school system as well as they do their “Evangelism” and they will see an increase in students and better maintained schools. Without this…more schools will bite the dust.

By all means, modernize and merge schools when and where necessary. Also, don’t allow areas to be foolish and selfish with “It’s our school syndrome” and not permit reasonable change to occur.


I was able to get through 4 years of college by 1) taking a year off between high school and college, building up enough savings to pay for all first year fees 2) working about 15 hours week at the college 3) working summers and earning enough money to pay for perhaps half my fees each year.

No loans, no parental support needed. I let them pay for my graduation expenses.

I wonder what kids are doing these days to pay their own way?


Not only in the US. Bogenhofen - Austria offers a small number of “theological” education and also an academy, meeting the educational standards required by te State.- für access to univeristies, for a higher income class. Now just take those kids from 14 to1 8 . In schools with official and full public regime thwre ist no tuition tobe payd and books or other requirements are free. Private schools, fully accredited, at least are supportet financially. Not so Bogenhofen.

Yes, children of ministers and those employed in the “Work” get special lower fees prescribed, accodirng to the “Working policy” (?.)

And it is a boarding school with special regulations concerning the dorms which do meet our standars, but not those of he authorities controlling"human rights" (An EU - matter since 2013). Any way, the kids are “under age minors” with a cluster of rights in their own reposnibity already and their rights of mainatining their freedom and their intimacy.

Industries to give the students parttime work ? OK, but how about some calculation ? The "helpinhg hand " gets - well - € 12 the hour, the employee with some qualification costs( not !! “gets”) € 50. - the hour.

And thec ost for just maintaining the buidings at a minimal safe state : Well two roofers, one day = € 1 000. -

Happy to say : I am not the Union Treasurer.


For years Adventist church leaders and pundits have largely ignored the high cost of higher education. Whether the issue du jour is rising tuition prices, falling returns on our educational investment, or the ballooning student debt bubble, the message has generally been the same: College is only getting harder to afford, even as it becomes more necessary.

It is much worse than Adventist church leaders and Mr. Pollard from Oakwood University are willing to admit. The Adventist Educational System in North America, as is presently operating, is headed for the same fate as Adventist publishing and book distribution (remember “colporters” and the Book and Bible Houses- ABC?) total financial disaster!

Recently, CourseSmart, an e-textbook provider, created extensive research that lays out in simple terms the details of the college tuition explosion – and they’re truly frightening. Adventist private education is part of this entire operation. Over the last 30 years, tuition has increased 1,120 percent; by comparison, even the “skyrocketing” cost of health care only rose 600 percent, and housing costs have gone up a paltry 375 percent. Not surprisingly, college loan debt has grown explosively too, outstripping car loans and credit cards as the largest sources of personal debt. Given the much-trumpeted 2011 announcement that Americans owed more than $1.3 trillion in student loans, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Nor, for that matter, should it be shocking that almost one in five families is currently paying off student loans. If as Jared Wright reports “Dr. Larry Blackmer, the North American Division Vice President for Education, told delegates at the 2015 Year-end Meeting that during his time in charge of the Education Department, the division has lost a net 271 schools, equating to some 16,000 students.” This is a current tragedy. What are doing about it?

There are a lot of ideas being floated to get these problems under control: value report cards for universities; pay-it-forward tuition plans; a renewed focus on non-collegiate higher education.

The end of the Great Recession has not ended the mandate to cut costs at many colleges and universities. The trick is to reach goals in a way that doesn’t harm the academic integrity of the institution. That is best accomplished through a strategic approach that includes actions that are relatively simple and some that are highly impactful. Some of the ideas
Here are 6 simple cost-saving strategies that Adventist education executives can implement with successful results. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it may spawn additional ideas across all departments and disciplines.
1. Hire more student employees: Students are an almost endless supply of part-time workers at a relatively low cost. Hiring them does double duty by getting work done and providing them with real life experience. Some students could even be potential full-time employees later.
2. Eliminate high-maintenance landscaping: Many institutions are beautifying their campuses with lower-maintenance perennials, grasses, and ground covers that don’t require costly daily labor, heavy watering and frequent mowing, plant replacements, pruning, cleanup, or chemical treatments.
3. Eliminate duplicate health insurance: Employees may be covered by two health insurance plans, their own and their spouses, for example. Higher co-pays and deductibles may be effective in thwarting dual coverage.
4. Offer or expand online courses: Online costs are typically less than brick-and-mortar and can bring in additional revenue from students who normally would or could not attend.
5. Conduct a profit margin analysis: Some institutions can profit from tuition through better course management. But before that can happen, it is essential to know the break-even point for academic courses by applying direct expenses to tuition. Understanding the break-even point allows an institution to more strategically determine the frequency of course offerings, number of classes, and possibly even course content. These factors can be used to assure return on investment. Using this business-model approach to course and degree portfolios can be game changing; some institutions even profit from tuition through better course management.
6. Establish continuous improvement: Costs, processes, and communication can be greatly improved by evaluating the activities that drain time and other resources. If what Jared Wright reported in the article actually ever happens it would be a miracle (on the level of the Red Sea opening by Moses) "The North American Division is mulling consolidation plans on a number of levels, not least of all the prospective restructuring of the division itself. This era within the North American Division seems likely to be characterized by belt tightening and consolidation…"
Organizations that conduct efficiency examinations of work processes also learn that people become more productive and satisfied when they can focus on strategic initiatives rather than inefficient tasks.

The entire process involves examining all options, jobs, and activities to determine what can be done better or even eliminated.


In an article I wrote for the Spectrum Fall 2012 issue (“Are Adventist Colleges and Universities Worth It?”), it was noted that when compared to local public universities in the state in which Adventist tertiary institutions were located, Adventist institutions generally have significantly higher net cost, lower graduation rates and students have higher debt upon graduation. Students who do not graduate often leave with high levels of debt, without having the benefit of a degree to help repay student loans. If students are able to attend the “flagship” university in their state, the graduation rate increases substantially compared to all SDA institutions. This is the reality facing parents and students when anticipating attending the college of choice.

College costs increase greater than the rate of inflation since major cost drivers, including faculty and staff salaries, administrative services and construction costs, tend not to have the productivity effects that are included in inflation measures. Gone are the days when a student can show up and “work his or her way through college” in a reasonable time (as I did at Oakwood, back in the day). Denominational employment and selecting a spouse appear to be less of a factor in choosing Adventist higher education, when the academic metrics and costs favor public education. There is clearly a role for Adventist education at the tertiary level and for many it remains the preferred means of obtaining a college education. But, it appears, for a diminishing number of prospective students. All SDA institutions may wish to examine carefully how their metrics compare with alternatives. Improvements in graduation rates and decreases in costs to the student are imperative. While I do not discount the spiritual and other qualitative aspects of an education at a SDA institution, the decline in enrollment at Oakwood and other institutions suggests that the these measures may not be enough.


Adding to what Tom Says, why do we stop thinking when the last word at Andrews is not the Bible but Ellen White?
Why have higher education when you have to shortcut and appeal to her?
On the one hand we are to be thinkers, but then if you think you place yourself outside ‘The System’ and join the gospel chorus?
The choices are becoming clearer.
Keep Christ at the center.

Ken L Lawson


In reply to Jim Londis:
Seventh-day Adventists may do well to support students spiritually in all levels of education, not as a defeat of Seventh-day Adventist education, but as its culmination. Soon, tuition in many schools will be a thing of the past. [Note the recent no-tuition policy in Germany for all students, including those from other countries.] Church-related tuition-driven schools cannot compete with this. Instead, perhaps, we could identify the essentials of the Seventh-day Adventist educational experience currently valued, then replicate them in other ways and places, plus mentor our students in all the places they study. What if churches were open during evenings as homework centers, for example?

In reply to Steve Mga:
I believe Oakwood University is now a North American Division institution.

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Here is one explanation of why the costs are so high in our schools as well as other higher education schools: easy money. Like the housing crises that bubbled and burst because of a cycle of easy money flowing into the market cost sky rocketed because of demand and it continued at an insane rate until those balloon mortgages took effect. People could no longer afford living in homes artificially kept at low monthly payments. So it is with higher education. Students are incurring upwards of $100,000 in debt and they can easily get loans to go to school. It’s flooding the market with loose money that inflates the costs of schools and the cycle goes like houses. But there is one horrible thing about school loans: you can’t claim bankruptcy to eliminate nor cut down the debt. This message of heavy debt coming out of school is taking hold in households and going to school isn’t much of an option anymore considering the debt load the child would retain for very sparse jobs in the market. Young people are coming out of school with monthly payment on average of a very nice car or more. If they can’t get a job in the field they train in they settle for McDonald’s and $8/hr won’t make the monthly payment on student loans.

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I attended an SDA boarding school in HS, then two years at SDA college. I left because I felt like dogma in one area (religion) led to absence of critical thinking in all areas (I still think that). I switched to a very large public university (went from 1,200 students to 37,000) and found that at the public university, you could think anything you wanted, but no one really cared. In general I found my SDA college more supportive, but I was happy I made the switch. I’ll note I did meet my future wife at my SDA college, now married 28 years and in the same faith…

I have a child graduating SDA HS. She is accepted at 4 SDA colleges who are heavily recruiting her. The schools vary slightly in cost but are $35K plus per year including room and board. For good students, they will offset that with scholarships that are between $5K - $10K per year, up to 4 year’s worth. So if you are an A+ student and keep those grades it will run you about $25K per year or more.

My daughter has also applied to 3 state universities (we’ll hear in a couple of months). She can attend the higher level ones for about $25K per year including room and board. Those universities are considered some of the best in the world and graduates do very well in the job market. The next level university cost about $10K per year and are close she can live at home and commute the 15 miles (or board for another $10K +/-). Or lastly, she can go to the Community College which is 2.5 miles away for the first two years, live at home and have it cost just a couple thousand.

We’ll advise her, but it’s her choice. She is leaning away from the SDA schools at this time. She visited two of them and has spoken with people that graduated her HS that have attended those schools. While I didn’t go to SDA college to find a wife, I certainly did. However, young people get married later now than they used to.

Finally (related), in my view SDA schools both at high school and collegiate level are not doing well because they refused to believe that they needed to become competitive in the marketplace. Students have many choices in HS and college. They will not choose an SDA school simply because it’s SDA. The school needs to provide exceptional value for students, provide meaningful outcomes in employment and then explain loud and clear how that outcomes translate to dollars and sense for the student and their family. Until they really face up to that, they can plan on continuing to lose students to other options.


It would be useful to know what the splits in income are for households where the parents are say 35 to 60 years of age. If the church demographic is weighted towards older retired people, then this has an impact on the reported levels of income, but not necessarily the affordability of education.


The following news story presented a very different picture of Oakwood University’s financial health in October 2014 when it became a North American Division institution.

ANN October 15, 2014 Quotes—

Oakwood is in good financial health, said Pollard, who last month opened a university-owned franchise, Edible Arrangements, in a bid to cut student tuition. Oakwood is the first Adventist school to own a franchise.

Pollard said 10 percent of the university’s $50 million annual budget comes from North American Division institutions.

General Conference Treasurer Robert E. Lemon concurred with Pollard’s financial assessment.

“Oakwood University is in a very, very good financial position,” he said.

15 months later Oakwood University’s financial health is ailing. Very sad for this great university, its students and the staff members losing their jobs in 2016…

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A few questions:
Did anyone in 2014 believe the church spin about Oakwood’s rosy finances?
Has Edible Arrangements made any profits yet?
Church sponsored businesses have a poor track record. Their governing boards are generally heavily weighted with clerics who are accustomed to church members throwing money at them. Does Dr Pollard and his board have experience with successes in the corporate world?
One observation: The old work-study ethic propounded by Ellen White has become increasingly impossible to implement. It is no longer applied in my part of the world. The reason is that academic requirements have sharply increased to the point where class assignments occupy full-time commitment when a student is taking a full load of units. My alma mater once offered part-time work on an orchard, in a dairy and a health food factory. Nowadays they are all closed. Many students, especially seniors, are heavily subsidised and indemnified by the church.


I wonder to what extent the Adventist college/university “brand” has been damaged within the church by the GYC/CAMPUS crowd and direct attacks on institutions by Jay Gallimore and others. Has there been an erosion in belief in Adventist education among the constituency most likely to sacrifice for it?

I also wonder about Pollard’s analysis. Is evangelism really the issue? Seems like a study of evangelistic baptismal rates vs. enrollment trends, in his institution’s case, among African-Americans, might shed light on this. I suspect that there are other issues involved.

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The tension created by leaders and orgs like those you’ve mentioned, pitting independent schools of evangelism against Adventist colleges and universities, comes out in interesting (if subtle) ways. During the NAD Year-end Meeting for instance, there were calls to support Adventist higher ed, and although not explicitly so, it seemed evident that they were as much directed to individuals as they were general, blanket statements.

You missed the most important things to be done:

  1. Market the school to the wider community and overseas. The most important thing SDA schools can to increase enrollment is to stop talking to SDAs only. Target Christian families, immigrants (vegetarian HIndus, peace-loving Buddhists) and those families living closest to the school.

  2. Employ social media to tell the story and attract new students, engaging high-exposure community events such as marathons, rallies and service events.