Recruiting Non-Adventist Students Already the Norm in Adventist Higher Education

Last week I wrote about proposed solutions to the enrollment problem that faces institutions of higher education in the North American Division. Loma Linda University President Dr. Richard Hart stated in his April, 2017 newsletter “Being distinctive or being inclusive?” that leaders in North American higher ed are increasingly looking outside the Adventist denomination to recruit students. Hart wrote, “Has the time come when we should openly invite students of other faiths to join our campuses as we look to share our message and strengthen our academic offerings?”

For many Adventist institutions outside North America, recruiting non-Adventist students is already the norm. Sahmyook University in metro Seoul, South Korea provides the most obvious example: of Sahmyook’s 5,787 students enrolled in 2016, only 809 (14%) were members of the Adventist Church, according to data from the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research. Over half of South Korea’s population claimed no religious affiliation in a 2015 census, while 27.6% identified as Christians. Another 15.5% claimed Buddhism. Of South Korea’s estimated population of 50.8 million, there were 245,621 Seventh-day Adventists in 2015 (0.5% of the population).

South Korea’s demographics make looking outside the Adventist denomination for Sahmyook’s enrollment seem obvious. Sahmyook isn’t alone, either. The University of Arusha in Tanzania has 610 Adventist students out of 3,155 (19.3%), as another example.

Below is a breakdown of the data provided by the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASR) on Adventist enrollment percentages for the Adventist institutions of the Worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, division-by-division. The number of institutions is given for each division along with the total enrollment.

East Central Africa Division (7 institutions with 14,209 students) - 39.5% Adventist enrollment Euro-Asia Division (2 institutions with 918 students) - 88.5% Adventist enrollment Inter-American Division (14 institutions with 19,196 students) - 74.3% Adventist enrollment Inter-European Division (8 institutions with 768 students) - 87.2% Adventist enrollment North American Division (13 institutions with 25,461 students) - 60.85% Adventist enrollment Northern Asia-Pacific Division (5 institutions with 7,592 students) - 22.1% Adventist enrollment South America Division (17 institutions with 28,285 students) - 66.2% Adventist enrollment South Pacific Division (4 institutions with 3,357 students) - 70.7% Adventist enrollment Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (7 institutions with 4,940 students) 59.4% Adventist enrollment Southern Asia Division (9 institutions with 3,760 students) - 36.2% Adventist enrollment Southern Asia Pacific Division (19 institutions with 17,900 students) - 72.9% Adventist enrollment Trans-European Division (5 institutions with 1,472 students) - 35% Adventist enrollment West Central Africa Division (4 institutions with 19,062 students) - 17.4% Adventist enrollment

The total Adventist enrollment at Adventist institutions of higher education is 55% (80,847 students out of 147,123 enrolled).

Some Adventists would like to see much higher percentages of Adventist students at Adventist institutions, but in many parts of the world, including South Korea, Zimbabwe, and increasingly in North America, that is no longer feasible. That is why for Adventist higher education, as Dr. Hart reported, “the consensus seems to be emerging that [recruiting outside of Adventism] may be our best option, a time for uncovering our light and brightening the world.”

While Loma Linda University declined to share data on students’ religious preferences, according to ASR data, in 2016 Loma Linda enrolled 1,960 out of 4,629 total (42%) Adventist students. Loma Linda is not the leader in low Adventist enrollment. Kettering College of Medical Arts in Ohio only enrolled 76 Adventist students out of 761 (10%), and the Adventist University of Health Sciences in Florida enrolled 425 out of 2,090 Adventist students (20%).

Here are the rest of the Adventist colleges and universities in North America ranked by percentage of Adventist students according to 2016 ASR data.

Washington Adventist University - 44% Adventist students La Sierra University - 51.3% Adventist students Pacific Union College - 68.5% Adventist students Union College - 73% Adventist students Southern Adventist University - 75% Adventist students Walla Walla University - 77.7% Adventist students Burman University - 50.1% Adventist students Andrews University (including Griggs U.) - 85% Adventist students Oakwood University - 87.7% Adventist students Southwestern Adventist University - 90% Adventist students

The data make clear that some Adventist colleges and universities in North America have already moved away from being centers of learning primarily for Seventh-day Adventist students. They are led by the health sciences institutions, Kettering, Loma Linda, and Adventist University of Health Sciences.

With global Adventist student enrollment in Adventist colleges and universities at 55% and shrinking, religious inclusivity is increasingly the norm.

*This story originally listed Burman University's Adventist student population as 50.1% of its total enrollment based on statistics courtesy of ASR. Burman University said the number was 83%. Image courtesy Sahmyook University.Image courtesy Sahmyook University.

Jared Wright is Southern California Correspondent for

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Nice bit of research Jared! The economic engine you mentioned is, of course, driving this change in the ratio between Adventists vs. Non-Adventists. Only about 25% of qualified secondary students apply for acceptance in Adventist higher education. There are at least two other factors. One is the fact that the majority of tuition funds in America higher education are derived from federal and state loans to students. Also, the majority of students in Adventists institutions in the United States are involved in Pell Grants (generally lower income families). Eventually the government is going to impose a standard that will not allow a church sponsored institution to discriminate on the basis of religion, if students participate in government student loans. So far the government remains quiet on this issue (but it hovers in back rooms of the Department of Education). Schools that discriminate using church funds to only grant Adventist students for tuition will also bring up a future concern (the church avoids funding tuition to non-Adventist students). In general tax payers expect that student loans go to prepare students for broad education, not specific for religious instruction. Government funding of schools like Loma Linda Medical School require that the institution not only accept Adventist undergraduates. That is why about half the medical and dental students are non-Adventists (with a religious tendency of some sort, including Mormons, Jewish, Presbyterian, etc).

In addition, in North America all of the higher education institutions participate in bonds for the construction or support of facilities, including General Conference owned. These bonds are specific in identifying only for non-sectarian construction (avoiding prayer or religious instruction in such buildings is required to qualify for the bond). The only Adventist university in North America that does not have a bond is Walla Walla University, but in this specific instance WWU receives funds from Washington State and none of the state funds can drift into the school of religion.


Thank you for this, yes. I imagine that most Adventists not working on or directly with SDA colleges are unaware of these statistics. As a denomination that can no longer employ even a small percentage of Adventist graduates, we should re-evaluate what the mission and purpose of our schools are. Staffing a shrinking number of places in the church, both here and in the mission field (which is rapidly and rightly becoming nationalized)? Keeping young adults safe—and safe from what? Witnessing to those in and out of the church? A method for maintaining cultural traditions? To grow knowledge from the inside? To protect an insular system from wisdom from “outside”? What? The system is not what it was when AUC, the denomination’s first post-academy institution opened its New England doors in 1882 (and, certainly, neither is that school). The notion of young men and women traveling across the country to attend a college is common now, but it was nearly unheard of for most of the church’s history. Today, a non-Adventist choosing one of “our” schools half way across the country is also common. Non-Adventist enrollment is not an indicator of a “slippery slope” but one of a competitive, quality education in most cases. We should be proud of this. This also helps put the value of excellent education that is nationally competitive in a new perspective, and should de-emphasize the “entitlement” some unions have regarding Adventist college-aged students in their regions.


Thank you for a raising an especially relevant topic, Spectrum.

The operational finances and equity value of the denominational educational and health institutions appear to exceed the financial operating and equity scope of the denomination’s pastoral enterprise that serves and seeks to enlarge its 20 million membership.

Unlike membership revenue on which the pastoral enterprise depends, the revenue in educational and health institutions arises from charges for services paid for on behalf of a bare majority of recipients who are church members, and in many new universities where the church is still growing, members make up a very small minority of the students.

Perhaps that has long been a common assumption for denominational health institutions, but until this article it has not been common knowledge that this is also already true for the the denomination’s newest and high-growth educational institutions, and increasingly true for the denomination’s legendary U.S. universities.

The so-called ‘blueprint’ for Seventh-day Adventist education gleaned from comments by Ellen White over the first several decades of denominational history assumes denominational education as exclusively serving the children of members.

Now that this assumption has been proven defunct, the denomination is rightly seeking to come up with a new plan for supporting Seventh-day Adventist students and their non-member peers in school.

Thanks for helping support the denomination in responding to this new to many enterprise.


Adventists have long seen our educational students as missionary schools! The story is told by my late mother of her time as a young single missionary teacher in Papua in the aftermath of WWII. One small girl had been converted to love Jesus against the wishes of her village family. She wished for an education which was not available in her village. Her family forbade her from attending the mission school. But she made the break and became a boarding student. The school authorities were well aware of her situation. And did all they could do to ensure that she was safe at all times. But alas! It happened just as the family had threatened!! One dark night, sometimes after lights out in the girls dormitory she disappeared. The other girls roused my mother, Miss Wiseman (Wisey as she was called) with the news that their school friend had quietly been kidnapped from her bed in the open-plan dormitory. The school principal was alerted and a search immediately instituted. There was no sign of her anywhere on campus so the search area was extended to the mangroves adjacent to the campus. Eventually she was found, strung up in a tree, hanging by a rope. The girl was quickly taken down and carried to the verandah of the house where the girls dean, my mother, lived. It appeared as though the girl was dead. But she was tenderly laid out on the rough boards of the verandah. Pray was offered. And the miracle happened! She sat up!! In a few hours she was able to resume life as if nothing had happened. Her father and his friends who had been intent on doing damage to this girl watched these proceedings from the shadows without saying or doing a thing. Later he and his friends were converted. The girl became a minister’s wife!

Yes, Sahmyook University is an interesting place. All Christian educational institutions in Korea are known as mission schools. (And there are scores of them in Korea). I taught English there to English majors in the Division of English Studies in 2008 and 2009.[Before that I spent three years teaching English at a government run university in the far south of Korea). I also served as Senior elder of the University International Church. At that stage our pastor was a Korean pastor and Seminary Professor.

Sahmyook has a distinguished history, having begun as the Adventist training school located near Pyongyang, North Korea, pre-WWII. It was moved to Seoul many years ago. My friend Dr Robert Johnston, a long time missionary to Sahmyook told me of how he and his family would sometime be wakened in the early mornings by the sound of his students praying out loud in the beautiful forest surrounding his house on campus.

A degree from a University in Seoul is worth much more than a degree from a university in the provinces. How thankful Sahmyook is that it’s back boundary is the border of Seoul Metropolitan City and the neighbouring province. Hence competition for a place at Sahmyook is intense. Yet it was only in the late 1980’s or in the 1990’s that Sahmyook University was expanded sufficiently to allow for students to come from the general community. Many of the students who come, and who are not from an Adventist background, are from a Christian background, but not all. My understanding is that such students should demonstrate some appreciation for conservative Christian principles. And all freshman students must attend the university on the Saturday morning. The various schools of the University organize a Sabbath school of sorts to suit their needs, and then go to a special campus wide freshman church service. It was my sense that the university authorities work hard to make such events fit the needs of a very post-modern generation. However, all kinds of subtle pressures and inducements are applied for students to be baptized.

It seemed to me that Korean Adventists would react to the very real religious prejudice against Adventists. Adventist teachings did not allow them to submit themselves to the Confucian ideal of harmony and not rocking the boat. Conversely, Korean Adventist pastor friends would put very real pressure on people to accept the label and become Adventist.

In 2004, I interviewed for the position of full Professor of Theology at what must have been Korea’s smallest university. I actually arrived at the interview not understanding what I had been recruited for. I soon was told. They were happy with my academic record from America, from the UK and from Australia. All went well until I answered the inevitable question - “What denomination are you affiliated with.” The walls went up immediately on my answer.

Most, but not all of the academic staff of Sahmyook were Adventist. In my time there, there were a small handful of academics baptized. We foreign teaching staff were warmly embraced by the university and the academics. (Such was not the case in my former university). Although, in my time we were not listed as credentialed missionaries of the church in the Adventist Yearbook.

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from a practical standpoint, the biggest concern with a diminishing adventist student population in our schools may be the increased difficulty in finding an adventist marriage partner…i can recall, from my student days, several girls whose big mission in attending an adventist school was finding an adventist husband…it was possible to feel them scouting you out every time they talked to you, or even looked at you…of course, for those students who’ve already made the commendable decision to remain single for life, this is a non-issue…

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The question I ask is how many of these non-SDA’s join the church through the ministry of the school? If they don’t join do they go into their life with warm and friendly attitudes about Adventist? How many SDA’s students end of marrying a non-SDA student? Dose the increasing numbers of non-SDA’s increase the pressure to secularize the faith of the teachers, the morale of the school and classroom instruction? Years from now will our school look like former religious institutions such as Princeton and Harvard?

The issues that we face as a denomination that are related to our schools and colleges are complex. I appreciate the work that Jared has done in bringing some of these to our attention. I look forward to reading more on his thinking.

In regard to Sahmyook University in South Korea, there is an aspect of this situation that Jared has missed. The government of South Korea has more control over that Universities that we in the U.S. typically are aware of. The government issues guidelines that the universities must follow if they wish to continue. One set of guidelines controls that students who are admitted. To be blunt, Sahmyook does not have a choice as to the admission of students who are not SDAs.

In addition, the government sets other academic requirements that go well beyond what we in the U.S. see in our colleges here.

It should be stated that our leadership in South Korea has been able to work within the governmental requirements in a manner that has resulted in Sahmyook contributing to the mission and ministry of the SDA Church in South Korea.

My personal knowledge stems from living there for 35 months and my marriage to an English professor in its English Department.

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Adventist educational institutions have always accepted non-adventist students, but how many of these institutions actively allocate recruitment dollars to be used to advertise SDA institutions in non-adventist communities or to advertise to the general public? These statistics would be interesting.


Perhaps you are aware of the timeliness of this article, Jared. If so, kudos. If not it is an amazing coincidence.

Today is the day in the United States when students must declare their decision for a college. Many have already done so, but today at 5 pm marks the end of a process that for many has gone on literally for years. And after today begins the waiting game for parents, wondering if all the years they have invested in this child and the decision made have been well-considered.

Anyone interested in understanding the current financial world of higher ed. in America today might appreciate listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s three part podcast on the subject. His podcast is Revisionist History and the first episode on this subject is “My Little Hundred Million”, followed by “Food Fight”, then “Carlos Doesn’t Remember”. All are eye opening.

Today federal funding for higher education has poured so much money into the educational system that it would be nearly impossible for any institution to resist it. Especially in hard financial times.