Viewpoint: The Five Percent Solution Can Make the Education “Vision” Viable Again

(Spectrumbot) #1

The impending closing of Mt. Vernon Academy has generated much discussion. The problem, according to Dr. Thambi Thomas, the former Pacific Union Conference associate director for education, is not just with boarding academies, but with K-12 day schools as well. What follows below is the executive summary of a paper Dr. Thomas presented at the NAD Education Summit in October 2010 that looks at the problem from a different perspective and offers a few of what he calls "let's-think-outside-the-box" solutions.

Executive Summary

Principals in Adventist K-12 schools wear too many hats. The principal’s responsibilities include, among other things, being the marketing director, bill collector, school board secretary, business manager, problem solver, mediator, disciplinarian and instructional leader. As a result, the principal's focus is on what is needed to survive, not always predicated on what they should be doing to affect change and improve the school to meet the needs of a diverse student population, a changing constituency and demanding stakeholders.

There are two major challenges facing Adventist education: decreasing enrollment and the shortage of finances needed to operate the school. The Pacific Union Conference has seen a decline in K-12 enrollment particularly at the elementary level where the K-8 enrollment has declined by an alarming twenty-two percent in the past ten years. During the same period, however, there has also been an increase in total tithe and membership.

According to studies and research the lack of finances is seen to lie at the heart of the problem of declining enrollment and other perceived deficiencies in Adventist education. A survey conducted by the North American Division concluded that:

“Two in five Adventists in North America live in households with incomes of less than $25,000 a year, a category that includes the working poor as well as those below the poverty line.”

“Nearly a third of Adventists (30 percent) are from the lower middle class or households with annual incomes of $25,000 to $49,999.”

“A quarter of Adventist families fall into the middle (16 percent) and upper middle (8 percent) segments of the socioeconomic spectrum with annual household incomes of $50,000 to $99,999.”

“Just 7 percent of members live in households where the annual income is $100,000 or more. Those in their forties and thirties are more likely to be in this segment as are those who identify their ethnicity as White.”

The number of church-related families in the child-rearing years is declining more rapidly than the overall growth of the denomination can make up for. The result is a constricting pool of potential students in the Adventist community.

The median age for Seventh-day Adventists in North America is fifty-one. There is a significant trend toward the “graying of Adventism” in North America. Adventists are over-represented among those fifty-five years of age and older.

The percentage of Whites in the Adventist Church in North America has declined over the past two decades to about half the membership. At the same time there has been significant growth among minority groups.

Funding The Vision

Some churches are “required” to support (be a constituent of) a K-8 and a 9-12 church school in the area while it is optional in other conferences. There are many churches that embrace Adventist education and support it financially making it the largest expenditure in the church budget. The concept of a mandated church-school constituency relationship, however, is not working in many areas and has not worked for some time as evidenced by unpaid church subsidies to schools coupled with the lack of pastoral presence at many school board meetings often resulting in the school’s financial indebtedness to the conference. If we truly believe that the work of education and redemption are one and that Adventist education is evangelism in action—year round, perhaps it is time to put dollars behind that belief and fund Adventist education as though it were a ministry, an evangelistic outreach of the church! Schools in the Pacific Union Conference report the baptism of more than 500 students each year.

The 5% Solution Part A: Fund Adventist Education with Additional Tithe Funds

Churches will be asked to pay an amount between 2 to 5 percent (percentages are presented in concept/principle, not as rigid numbers) of tithe directly to the conference to help fund K-12 education in that conference. In 2009 this formula would have yielded $8,120,756 in the Pacific Union Conference.

The 5% Solution Part B: Retain An Additional Percentage of Tithe to Fund K-12 Education

Conferences currently retain 55 to 60 percent of tithe for conference operations. Each conference will be permitted to withhold an additional 5 percent of tithe before tithe is forwarded to the Pacific Union Conference in support of K-12 education in that conference. This would have yielded an additional $8,120,756 in 2009 for education in the Pacific Union Conference.

A. The Pacific Union Conference distributed $4,137,080 in North American Division reversion funds in 2009 to local conferences for education and an additional $2,640,689 in tithe reversion funds from North American Division for evangelism.

B. This proposal is suggesting the addition of another 30 percent of “tithe reversion funds” received by local conferences for evangelism, be ear-marked for education. This would have provided an additional $792,207 to education.

Under this proposal, principals will no longer have to bother pastors with delinquent subsidies. Pastors and principals can forge new relationships driven by the same purpose—the education and salvation of each student in our schools. Conference boards of education can focus time and energies on operating the school system without having to deal with the tenuous relationships between churches and schools because of subsidies owed to the schools. Additionally, this plan may usher in a renewed sense of belonging and shared mission on the part of educators and pastors on behalf of our children and young people.

For those who might still believe in the long-standing practice in the Adventist church that only pastoral ministers can be paid from tithe, one should consider a statement from the White Estate on Ellen White’s perspective regarding who can be paid from tithe funds: “For Ellen White the ministers in the ‘generally-accepted’ sense of the word were men appointed by the conference as licensed ministers or ordained ministers . . . as worthy of tithe support” Would this not apply to educators who are licensed ministers?

Thambi Thomas, Ed.D., is retired Associate Director of Education – Secondary for the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(k_Lutz) #2

Within and amongst all the quibbling, it is encouraging to see peddled a potential solution.

Trust God.

(Stephen Terry) #3

Do you really think that this financial solution is going to get the 70% who are not sending their children to SDA schools to start doing so?

(George Tichy) #4

That is absurd! (I mean, using tithe to fill the wholes)
If a school cannot survive based on tuition, then it should be closed. I don’t know what it could be, but something must be very wrong.

Schools are businesses and need to be run as such. They should actually be profitable. Aren’t there some private schools that are profitable? So what is wrong with the SDA schools?

Find the problem and correct the problem. Taking tithe to support schools? This is a strange maneuver.

(jeremy) #5

as long as adventist families’ incomes are relatively low, as this report highlights, taking on the significant expense of an adventist education is going to be a tough sell…i think finances are behind the dwindling number of kids in our schools, and the growing number of homeschool kids in our churches…

(Kade Wilkinson) #6

I cannot agree more.

College of the Ozarks is a Christian school that does it right. From their About page:

C of O is committed to its founding mission of providing a quality, Christian education to those who are found worthy, but who are without sufficient means to obtain such training. Instead of paying tuition, all full-time students work campus jobs to defray the cost of education. Upon complete participation in the Work Education Program, the College guarantees to meet the entire cost of education for students, allowing them the opportunity to graduate debt-free. The College openly discourages debt by not participating in any federal, state, or private loan programs and leads by example through having no institutional debt of any kind.

I worked between 30 and 50 hours a week between various part-time jobs when I was at Union, and I graduated with $36,000 in debt. There is no reason for SDA colleges to be taking tithe money and burdening students with debt-slavery when other Christian schools have found ways to send their students out debt-free.

(Elaine Nelson) #7

What other evangelistic funding leading to 500 baptisms each year equal that of the schools? We should have comparative figures to determine which is the best method for gaining baptisms since that is the goal, isn’t it?

When the word “Evangelism” is used, it always is thought of as TV or public evangelism but never SdA schools. But if the goal of Adventist education is to retain through baptism the youth of the church they are being very short changed and are second class as future baptismal candidates.

With more than half the tithe used for conference operations, where does the remaining 40-45% go? Is it toward something more important than education? Let the tithe be distributed where it will do the most good if that is their true wish.

(Kade Wilkinson) #8

Somewhat related:

(jeremy) #9

it appears that college of the ozarks has one, and only one, institution…perhaps the real lesson is not spreading oneself too thin…

(Kade Wilkinson) #10

Perhaps. But it is also not denominationally affiliated, so it is not getting money from a denominational structure.

(Steve Mga) #11

Did one notice that in most of these listed Religious groups that the median age of the groups is 45 or older?
So are those under 45 years attending non-Denominational churches? Free-Standing churches? Staying home?
We do know that Pentecostals world wide have almost 350 million adherents. What makes them so successful?

(Kade Wilkinson) #12

Yes. I noticed the following things that I thought were interesting:

  1. Mainline Prot. is oldest group
  2. SDA, RCC, and OCC share median age, but not ed. attainment–SDA is lowest, and OCC highest.
  3. Huge age disparity between orthodox Jews and reform and conservative Jews
  4. Hindu major outlier in terms of both age and education

It’s hard to say. If a church (say SDA) has many members who live to be over 100, and the birth rate is below replacement, there can be many young adults in that denomination and still a relatively high median.

I don’t know.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #13

Christian education is evangelism. tithe is used to help support evangelism. what better way to use tithe than to education ones own children. The administrative structure of the Seveth day Adventist Church is top heavy. With modern communication and travel either the local conferences or the unions could be eliminated. More over the retirement benefits of union officers and up could be adjusted. the Socila Security is a plus above the full salary. they should leave even not augmented. Printing houses should close. Job printing is the best way to go with just a few editors and proof readers with green eye shades.

children are too important to not give them priority. Tom Z

(Steve Mga) #14

I dont know much about the 3 Jewish groups as far as dues paying memberships.
I have a couple of people I volunteer with who are Orthodox. One person is Reformed.
My handicapped friend is Conservative, and I have been attending those services for the past 4 years. The Conservatives have a huge Youth program. Camps and such. Guest speakers and presenters about Jewish issues come around during the year. Members of this group [est 1905] drive in 25 to 30 miles for special services. Since they have a Jewish Prayer Book and the book of Torah it is possible to conduct services in one’s home similar to a service at Synagogue. My Synagogue has a huge Sunday School program where they teach Hebrew, teach the Torah, teach Jewish history and the celebrations. By the time a youth reaches 13 they Have to be able to do the Friday nite and Sabbath services in Hebrew, AND they have to know all the Chanting Melodies that go along with the Scripture readings. And there are many. This is a 7th or 8th grader Boy AND Girl. That is the day they become a Man, day they become a Woman. There is a continued Education Program beyond that goes all the way up through High School and they have a “graduation program” from that.
We Seventh day Adventists dont put this much Spiritual Pressure on our Youth. How many SDA churches do you see where Youth are on the platform during services assisting with services? In Jewish services it takes 5 to 6 persons just to do the Scripture Readings for the day. They parade the Scriptures down the aisles, the congregation touch the scripture roll with an item and then kiss that spot that touched the scripture.
Maybe part of the Elementary through High School Educational Program needs to INCLUDE participating in the Religious Services of the Church on Sabbaths. AND NOT just the 3R’s, some Bible, some Adventist history.

(Steve Mga) #15

College of The Ozarks
Sounds like an Adventist Self-Supporting College.

(George Tichy) #16

Reminds me of the Czars… :slight_smile:

(Elaine Nelson) #17

Muslims are now the largest religion, more than the Roman Catholics.

(Steve Mga) #18

I was just thinking when I posted the numbers for Pentecostals world wide – 350 million.
What ARE Pentecostals doing that Seventh day Adventists dont allow themselves to do? And WHY?

(Elaine Nelson) #19

Couldn’t that be asked of many other denominations? We know the answer: because Sabbath is the “Holy Grail” of Adventists and to even meet on Sunday to worship God is being castigated and condemned on this site. Babylon is always right around the corner on Sunday religious meetings.

(Bill Garber) #20

Organic growth now heavily favors Muslims.