Reaction to the Southern New England Conference Executive Committee’s Action to Withdraw Subsidy to Atlantic Union College

When Atlantic Union College restarted its academic programs in August 2015, some community members and stakeholders raised questions along the following lines:

1. Why would one start a school in today’s competitive higher education industry?

2. Do we need another Seventh-day Adventist college/university in North America?

3. Why should a parent send his/her child to a school without accreditation? Without financial aid?

These questions will be answered in the paragraphs below.

Rationale

It is important to address these questions by looking at the big picture of higher education in North America. The literature regarding higher education today points out that the industry is experiencing a major storm, and some of the challenges colleges and universities are facing relate to high cost, students needing remedial courses, and mental health issues with high cost being responsible for most of the problem. In October 2012, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in a meeting of 100 college leaders said that college costs are too high, graduation rates are too low, and there is too little accountability.

High Cost and Student Loan Debt

The availability of loans, especially in higher education, combined with the financial illiteracy of consumers has produced unintended consequences that are negatively affecting college graduates. Some of these consequences are: the sharp increase of college tuition and fees, decrease in students’ working to pay for school fees, and the reduction of family financial support to college students.

Sharp Increase of College Tuition

The graph below from the August 2014 Bloomberg Report, shows that tuition and fees have increased by 1,225% since 1978 and a sharp increase is noticed in the early 1990s and early 2000s. These periods correspond to the U.S. economic recessions. Even though there are many factors that contributed to this sharp increase, the credible explanation for the increase of tuition way beyond medical care and shelter would be the wide availability of student loans in the early 1990s. College and university administrators, squeezed by the reduction of state or other outside support, increased tuition and fees, knowing that: “If students don’t have the money, they can borrow.” Thus shifting the financial burdens to students who believed they had no other choice but to borrow more.

Unlike other consumer debt, this is the most dangerous debt because it must be paid; declaring bankruptcy does not discharge this kind of debt. Borrowers cannot run away from it. According to Frank Donoghue in his article “The Current State of U.S. Higher Education, Top to Bottom,” the lenders take no risks in offering them even to unqualified students.

This, in the long run, threatens small private education institutions. Most graduates are underemployed which forces them to have more than one job to meet their monthly payment. To defer payment of their loans, they go back to school, accumulating more loans. This has serious implications to our church communities.

The June 2015 U.S. News & World Report reported that a student standing in front of his school holding his diploma after graduation tweeted “Piece of paper for sale. Only $138,600 some dude in a robe gave it to me today. Not sure what to do with it.”

For some people, graduating with a debt of $100,000+ may be difficult to understand. Many college students these days are from low income, first-generation families. Because their parents did not save for college, the only option they have is to borrow. If they enroll in a private school which costs $25,000 a year for tuition and fees and graduate in five years (which is the average), their debt can reach $100,000 if the student financed part of his/her education with additional funds.

After the economic crisis of 2008, economists have said several times that the student loan debt is the next bubble that will burst in the near future.

Reduction of Student Work Hours

Because loans are available and because of the financial illiteracy of consumers, students don’t feel the need to work to pay for their college education. Those who work, don’t work as many hours as expected. Yet the dignity of work is part of the philosophy of Adventist Education.

Family and Community Financial Support

When baby boomers went to college, family members (parents, uncles, aunts, cousins) would provide financial support to them. Since loans became available, this kind of support has significantly declined or even disappeared. Hence the financial burden has shifted again to students.

Need for Remedial Courses

In a report from a summit on higher education organized by TIME in October 2012, participants were encouraged to take a more active role in K-12 to help close the enormous gap between the skills and knowledge high school graduates have and the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college. Currently, more than a third of undergraduates require remedial courses. Remedial college courses not only increase time to graduation but also add significant cost to the student.

WHY ATLANTIC UNION COLLEGE (AUC)?

Seventh-day Adventists in the Northeast, Home of Atlantic Union College

The northeast has become the home of many immigrants, and the Adventist Church is no exception. The Church in this region is very diverse. In the Southern New England Conference alone, 47% of membership and 51% of churches are non-English (All Nations, Cape Verdean, Chinese, Ghanaian, Haitian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish). This percentage could be higher if we looked at the union wide data. This is unique in the North American Division. No other union is so diverse. AUC provides limited scholarships to encourage this diversity. These members are not wealthy but are loyal to the Adventist beliefs and are faithful tithe payers. Christian education is their dream for their children. They send their children to public schools when they really have no other choice.

In the March, 2017 meeting of officers of Adventist colleges and universities, participants discussed some of the issues raised in this document. Dr. Richard Hart, Loma Linda University president, in his note to the university staff said that, “on the horizon, there are storm clouds that are threatening Adventist institutions of higher education…Costs and family dynamics are forcing students to look for low-cost community options.”

Two years ago, Atlantic Union College’s Board of Trustees understood that higher education needs a reform and institutions that don’t think outside the box will have difficulty surviving. This understanding led to the conclusion – “reform or get out of the way.” It is a great opportunity for AUC to come back into the higher education arena and intentionally design a model that will address some of the issues that are affecting the industry – a process that will be challenging and fraught with setbacks.

Aspects of this educational model include:

1. Low Tuition

The Board of Trustees voted to reduce tuition and fees for non-resident students to $11,500 a year. This is more or less equal to what Adventist day academy students pay per year. It is also less than half what students pay on average in other private colleges in North America. The administration is committed to keep the cost low by encouraging faculty and staff to work with a missionary spirit (low salary and carrying heavy responsibilities), and to practice good financial management.

Atlantic Union College can be a debt-free college for students who are willing to look for a job during the school year and in the summer, seek financial support from family members, and qualify for some institutional scholarships. The life of AUC graduates will be different from those who start with a huge student loan debt. They can save, buy a car, buy a house, get married, and support church and community projects.

2. Promote Work

Students who work during the school year and the summer, can raise approximately $7,000 toward their school bill. This is more than half the annual tuition and fees at AUC. Students are encouraged to look for jobs on and off-campus. Currently with a low unemployment rate in the country, finding a job off-campus is possible with some searching. Students can work to pay for their education instead of buying a car, or other items.

3. Certification Programs

Atlantic Union College is offering short-term certification programs for students who cannot afford a four-year degree program, and for working adults who are either under-employed, looking for promotion, or aiming for a career change. These programs are offered Sundays, and one or two evenings during the week. They take at maximum one year to complete. Many well-paying jobs are available after passing certification exams.

4. College Prep Courses

AUC’s administration recognizes that collaboration with our elementary schools and academies is critical for its success. All are partners in the ministry of saving people. Thus, during the summer, AUC offers college prep courses in math, reading, and study and writing skills to students going to college in the fall 2017. The cost is free except for course materials and meals. This is a saving of one semester’s cost for students who have to take them in college. This is another way of giving back to the constituency that supports the college.

ACCCREDITATION

The opportunity the college has to start with a clean slate comes with challenges. How do you start a school without accreditation and financial aid/loans in a borrowing culture?

The college administration explored all possible options to be accredited before school started in August 2015. The discussion to get national accreditation with the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) failed when we learned that ACICS may lose its recognition by the U.S. Department of Education. The administration is now preparing the report for eligibility for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The process will take time.

Certificate programs have partnerships with nationally and internationally recognized organizations that offer certification exams and certificates like Cisco Networking Academy, American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC), etc. The college also issues its own certificate. Accreditation is not an issue in this area.

Note: Accrediting agencies are not against accepting students from unaccredited schools. It is up to the institution to make that decision when a student wants to transfer.

ARTICULATION AGREEMENT

Meanwhile, the college contacted sister institutions for articulation agreements to facilitate the transfer of students so that they can graduate from an accredited school. So far an articulation agreement has been signed with Southwestern Adventist University in Texas; and hopefully soon, one with Andrews University will be signed. Academic advisors have been working with students to guide them in this process.

AUC is in a situation similar to what many Adventist overseas institutions experienced twenty years ago. They were struggling with low enrollment due to the lack of government recognition. To assist these overseas institutions Andrews University and Southern Adventist University offered extension programs on those campuses. This support allowed them to get government recognition and build enrollment to the point where they now stand on their own. Today many of their students are children of influential people including government officials. Articulation agreements with three or four higher education institutions will give AUC time to grow while working on regaining its own accreditation.

Target Audience

Considering the challenges outlined above, our target audience is first and foremost students in the Atlantic Union Conference which has a membership of 120,000. Seventh-day Adventists from outside the Atlantic Union Conference, and non-Adventist students are, of course, also welcome.

Ellen White said:

“I am glad that we have institutions where our youth can be separated from the corrupting influences so prevalent in the schools of the present day…They (students) should be trained to have moral courage to resist the tide of moral pollution in this degenerate age. Fundamentals of Christian Education, p89

Many families today, especially minorities, prefer to have their children attend a college near their home for a year or two.

To be more specific, our target audience is students who:

a) are majoring in theology/religion or pre-healthcare professions and are willing to spend one to three years at AUC and then transfer to partner institutions with which we have an articulation agreement.

b) prefer to study a year or two at AUC to complete their general education courses and then transfer to a partner institution to continue courses in their major.

c) cannot afford college education for now and want a short-term certification in one of the areas offered in our professional certificate program. These students can return to college to earn a college degree while working and earning a good salary.

STARTING A SMALL BUSINESS

It is well known that any new business starts small and expects to operate in the red for two to three years. Meanwhile, the owner works really hard to build the business by getting new customers/clients. We started with small enrollment numbers. Time is needed for the College to increase enrollment, change the culture of borrowing, and restore the value of working to pay for college.

We struggled at the beginning and are still struggling, but we are really working hard recruiting students and changing the paradigm of parents and prospective students.

The 2015-16 fiscal year (our first year in operation) ended in the black, a small deficit is projected in the second year (2016-17).

The 2016-20 Strategic Plan is available for anyone interested in knowing more about the college.

CONCLUSION

The economic situation of the country and the demographic shift of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reveal that the majority of college students in Adventist institutions are from low income, first generation homes. This calls for educational cost reduction, offering more scholarships, and a serious examination of institutional expenditures.

Southern New England Conference has been a strong supporter of AUC’s students’ three-way scholarships and subsidy. There is no doubt that the conference and the college are all working for the best interest of our students but for some reason, we have different strategies to achieve this goal. There is a disconnect somewhere. An honest and sincere dialogue to identify the differences is yet to happen. We hope to have one soon.

Meanwhile our appeal to the conference is to continue the financial support of our efforts to provide quality and affordable Christian education in the northeast.

If there is a time Atlantic Union College is needed it is NOW.

Issumael Nzamutuma is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Atlantic Union College.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8021

To ask for the same things which have already failed is like throwing more money into a vast hole. The best option for success would have been a merger into a healthier institution of which there were at least 2 opportunities for AUC to do so in the past 10 plus years. These educational opportunities could have allowed AUC to continue operating but unfortunately both were turned down. Atlantic Union College is now a defunct school and it would be best for everyone involved to accept this and make reasonable and prudent choices for the future. Hopefully there can be lessons learned and one of them is: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

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No one win when a school fails . The question is asked , "What went wrong ? " The signs where there for some time . We just decided to look the other way. When we had time to make the hard decisions to save the school, it would appear, nothing was done. And when action was taken , it was too little too late .We have a , "Blue Print , " on how to run a successful school .It works. We know from the many successful schools that operate under the SDA banner. Could not a special appeal to foreign Adventists to send their children to AUC ,had saved the school ? Maybe , We will learn from this, and again AUC will arise up out of the ashes . We are praying for you.

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Finally, someone - the Southern New England Conference - has said, “Stop!” They understand the market spoke a long time ago and said there is inadequate demand to support a Seventh-day Adventist college in New England. It doesn’t matter how appealing the vision laid out in this article. The market has spoken. And a conference has said it is not willing to subsidize AUC anymore. It probably wasn’t an easy decision, but I applaud it. Good judgment has prevailed.

it would be poor stewardship of the church’s resources for conferences to continue to use the scarce resources of its churches to subsidize someone’s dream of restoring the past. The handwriting about AUC was on the wall years before it was finally forced to close, throwing millions of dollars into the hole in the process.

The Atlantic Union can be a legitimate union conference without subsidizing a college that really isn’t.

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Kudo’s to AUC for recognising that the world has changed, and that there may well be a competitive advantage in being able to educate people to a certain level without incurring a large debt.

I don’t think AUC should presently be seen as a failed school. Rather, it is a brand new school, seeking to establish itself in the current environment. A change of name could reinforce its new status.

It is possible that the school could be successful. Certainly a strategy has been adopted that could lead to success. Whether it does or not will depend on two factors - whether it can receive the financial seed capital to fund its way, and whether it has correctly identified a strategy that appeals to potential students.

The success or failure is not the responsibility of the wider church. AUC itself has to convince potential supporters. Their ability to persuade supporters will provide credibility. This may appear circular, and it is, and it is dependent on the skills of its leaders in determining its strategy and conveying its need, to achieve results.

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AUC has a great history and a very bleak future. Adventism is theologically bankrupt, It cannot attract first rate scholars or faulty, nor substantial dollars from its constituents. Academies are drying up, Proffessional and trade schools are growing. go to Kettering or Orlando or Andrews.

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In the article, I have seemed to missed the reason given , by the conference, as to their reason for lack of support. Was it stated there?

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I noted the Author DID NOT address WHAT the UNION considered the most important offerings of AUC, and WHY they choose those.
ARE the offerings of AUC ACTUALLY what most potential students would be looking for?
No graduating job skills upon graduation were posted by the Author.
AND, as mentioned, WHY go there and NOT to a state community college close to home?
There are lots of SDAs who are attending local community colleges and remaining in the church.

If you go to the AUC web site their Course Offerings are NOT listed.

JohnL – Thanks.

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I grew up in two Adventist colleges, Philippine Union College (now Adventist University of the Philippines) and Mountain View College. My late parents were both teachers and later administrators. So I have been exposed to the financial struggles of our educational institutions to stay afloat to provide education to our young people at a relatively reasonable cost.

Mountain View College has since inception in 1953 has instituted the work and study program were students were required to work a minimum amount as part of their education in the school industries and were given financial credits for doing so. This has now evolved the school incorporating the school industry to a for profit corporation. The school has two hydroelectric plant, one of them sell electricity to the public grid, they have rubber tree plantation, agricultural industry and ranch. They have a total of 1,024 hectares of land. The industries are run like businesses and profits are donated to the college or for capital improvement of the industry.

Too often the members of the church grow weary subsidizing our educational institutions. The need to think out of the box for innovate solutions to address the financial operation of schools. Administrators need to have knowledge of business management in a broader sense so they could create profit streams. Remember students working in industries gain a valuable experience they could not gain in the classroom.

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With apologies to Idina Menzel and “Frozen”

Standing frozen in the life AUC cIhose
You won’t find a way out, the past is all behind
Buried in the snow
Let it go, let it go
Can’t bring you back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Say goodbye and cut the funding
And invest the money somewhere else
And there you will stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway
Let it go
Here we stand
Let it go, let it go
Let it go

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With Apologies to “The Little Mermaid”

Never give up
Face the music with a smile
Never give up
And in a little while

When the world’s knock-knocking on your shell
When opportunity rings your bell
Give up the thought of ever giving up
I’m never giving up on you

You can do it

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I have been in higher ed. for 19 years. Three of those years where at one of our SDA institutions. Unfortunately like with others, I do not fully understand what the author is trying to tell us. Adventist institutions (from K-12 to colleges) have to realize the student population is getting smaller so they have to attract and market to students from outside Adventist church. And it’s hard to do when you are not accredited. From my very own experience, Adventist colleges are not used to working together and collaborate, share resources and help one another. I will give just one specific example: LMS (learning management system). What they should have done is to operate as a satellite campus under Andrews or Southern. But that will never happen because of “old” people who care more about their own traditions, history and ego. Adventist education has to be innovative and reach students outside of physical campuses. I would recommend to read about Purdue and Kaplan.

One sad example from Midwest. Kansas-Nebraska conference had two boarding academies - Platte Valley in Nebraska and Enterprise in Kansas. Student’s population declined (cost went up), so our brothers administrators decided to create a new school Great Plains Academy. Why? Because families from Nebraska would not go to Kansas to a “rival” school so they thought that forming a new school will be the best move. Fast forward 10 years to present, there is no Great Plains Academy either.

We think we care about Adventist education, but we only care about “our” Adventist education, our traditions, history and we totally don’t care about other schools whatsoever. I don’t think that’s what EGW had in mind when she was promoting Adventist education.

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I believe the real “pride that goeth before a fall” is thinking we as Adventists can run colleges on the high debt, low mission model the other secular and parochial colleges are using. If we persevere for a few more years instead with this AUC ‘start up’, depending on faith and perspiration, uniting as a people, we will build a new, dynamic institution to serve God and the people of our region.

Sobering article, sobering discussion - at least from a German perspective…

$ 11,000 a year as a “low budget offer”??? At Friedensau Adventist University you get a whole 2 year MA (accredited) for just a little more than that… (Please remember, income and cost of living in Germany are somewhat comparable to the US)… Mind boggling. But you see - in Germany higher education in the public sector is for free (all the way through from BA to doctorates!). Thus Friedensau still finds it hard to recruit students. The ethical issue - especially with health and education - is that these are seen as a business, just like any other, and thus are profit oriented. We certainly need business competence and rigor - but a profit perspective will lead to ethical bankruptcy (and extremely immoral student debt). The church as whole needs to put the wallet to where the mouth is. If education (or health) are some kind of left or right body parts, financial support needs to be given, rather than waiting for profitabilty.

Having said that, I do believe the new “low level approach” is more promising than previous high flying ambitions. And indeed we need new concepts, new paradigms, more creativity. Articulation agreements might well be a worthwhile interim win-win solution (with emphasis on interim). Will be interesting to see where all this will lead.

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One of the topics in this article, besides the withdraw of the subsidy, is the concern of the high cost of higher education and negative impact of student loan debt to college/university graduates especially from private institutions. Honestly, how can our young people start a life with huge amount of debt and expect them to succeed? It is a responsibility for us as Christians to address it. I described how Atlantic Union College sees this as an opportunity to address this problem by low tuition, work to pay for school fees, and missionary spirit. This initiative with the support of the constituency can better serve the young people in the Northeast. Can we continue the conversation on this topic?

sure…low tuition, work to pay for school fees and missionary spirit sound like the way things were when i went to AUC (the late '70’s, then again in the early '80’s)…at that time, tuition was about $10,000/yr, inclusive, as i recall it, which my parents were able to manage (along with also supporting my two brothers who were at PUC and Andrews), although i did work each year i attended AUC, and also went off to guam as a student missionary, which eased things a bit…i believe my earnings went straight to my tuition fees, since i never saw it…

to resurrect that kind of doability now means an influx of serious cash from outside of many of today’s middle-class families, not to mention many of our local churches, and probably local conferences…the logical source would be our hospital system, which seems to be forever acquiring or opening up new properties…but are adventist hospital systems incomes even part of the church’s income - probably not…their biggest priority seems to be paying and enriching themselves, which really means they can’t be considered as part of any solution…the next logical source would be a redistribution of tithe and offerings received by NAD, and i believe tithe is already directed towards adventist teacher salaries, at least to some extent…i understand NAD is on a schedule to send less and less money to the GC…hopefully someone in NAD administration will come up with the bright idea to partially fund the education of our young people, rather than use those funds for a thickening administration overhead, not to mention endless traveling allowances and other perks…

i know that one idea that floats around a lot is the closing of all our colleges except for maybe one or two - i think loma linda and andrews are already being supported by our tithe…this would mean we’d be putting all our eggs into one mega basket, kind of like brigham young, and the charm and hands on spiritual guidance of many of our smaller adventist campuses would be a thing of the past…if i were dan jackson - especially now that education seems to be on the verge of becoming a new fundamental belief - i’d keep all the schools we have now, including AUC, but i’d set up a divisional way to support them…perhaps it is time now to trim some of our administrative overhead that’s being duplicated in regional conferences, not to mention union offices, and also direct less funds to overseas concerns…i think we should restructure the way we operate to make sure our colleges stay afloat, and our young people stay in the church…too much stress is being put on each college, which seems to be chasing the same few students, and on individual families…a division-wide redistribution approach is perhaps the answer…we may not have any other choice…i think the early adult yrs are vulnerable yrs…sending a 20-yr old to a public institution anywhere in n. america is virtually encouraging him to throw out his faith, which in the end means less membership, and less church income…perhaps we need to see the survival and flourishing of our educational system, and the retention of our young people, as an existential issue that justifies a complete overhaul of the way the church manages its income…

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