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Atlantic, Columbia Union Colleges Eye Changes
Two schools, facing challenges, retool for new markets
 
hange – a watchword for many Americans in 2008 – is sweeping across two Seventh-day Adventist college campuses.

Columbia Union College (CUC), based near Washington, D.C., has announced plans to realign its programs into three schools, said Weymouth Spence, CUC’s new president. Some academic programs are being trimmed, and budget growth for the next academic year will be flat, CUC officials said.

In South Lancaster, Massachusetts, church-owned Atlantic Union College (AUC) will offer “a specialized curriculum focused on Community Engagement and Christian Leadership,” according to AUC president Norman Wendth. “All curricula will prepare graduates for careers in professions that serve others and improve society,” he said.

 
CUC President Weymouth Spence
CUC, which celebrated its centennial in 2004, has had its challenges in recent years.  In 2007 the school saw its previous president, Randal Wisbey, depart for La Sierra University in Riverside, California. A contentious period over the possible sale of WGTS-FM, a popular Christian radio station generated widespread public comments. Selling the station’s license was thought to be a way to generate as much as $27 million in revenue; however, an outcry from station supporters and Adventists in the area caused trustees to cancel those plans.

“First and foremost, we want our constituents to know, we are staying in Takoma Park and are committed to revitalizing our present campus,” said Spence. “The Board has confirmed this for the third time in the last several months. We are on the same page. Now it’s time for all our constituents to join us and put away, once and for all, the idea of moving or closing CUC.”

Spence, a former administrator at Atlantic Union College, became CUC president in January. CUC said each of the new schools will have its own programs of distinction. Due to market conditions and anticipated growth potential, some underperforming areas of study, such as Media Studies and Entrepreneurship, have been cut from the college’s offerings while other high-demand programs, such as Forensic Psychology and Radiography, will soon be added.

In an interview with Adventist Review before the trustees meeting, Spence said the continuing high demand for healthcare professionals suggested a shift in emphasis towards preparing students for a “career path” in such fields.

The CUC Board also adopted what the school said was a “carefully balanced” 2008-2009 budget, which projects no increase in tuition and a flat enrollment. The new budget will be about $750,000 less than the current 2007-2008 budget, and includes what the school called “aggressive-but-realistic goals for fundraising.”

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
CUC LANDMARK: HMS Richards Hall on the campus of CUC. [Photo: CUC]
In a statement Spence added, “Admittedly, some of these changes are personally painful, but a vine must endure some pruning to thrive and produce the best fruit. The most difficult part was not funding several faculty and staff positions because some programs were underperforming,” Spence said. “These changes have been driven by recent research and by the [strategic] plan, and will give us stronger academic and operational offerings to meet market demands.”

Another demand, the school indicated, was renewal and expansion of CUC’s physical facilities.

“The real landmark decision relative to infrastructure is our decision to move ahead with planning for a badly needed building. We’ve lost five buildings and gained one since the early 1960s, and we need a building that will give the greatest return for the money and improve the lives of the most people possible,” said Spence. “A new building for health and wellness programs, and student activities, creates opportunities for new partnerships with the community that may include state and private foundation monies.” He explained that this initiative does not eliminate the plan to match the $2.25 million in state money for a performing arts education facility.

Founded in 1904, CUC occupies a 19-acre campus in Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. It boasts an internationally and culturally diverse population with more than 40 countries and nearly every state represented on campus by students, faculty, staff, and administration.

AUC Aims For ‘Christian Leadership’ Education
At the same time, Atlantic Union College, though rich in Adventist educational history, has had its own challenges. Atlantic Union College had its beginnings as South Lancaster Academy, a secondary school begun in 1882. Very early in its existence the school felt the need for work to be offered beyond the secondary level. It became Lancaster Junior College in 1918 and Atlantic Union College in 1922. Regional accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or NEASC, followed in 1945.

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
AUC President Norman Wendth
"AUC's accreditors have accepted the college's substantive change and new direction for the college," announced Atlantic Union College President Norman Wendth and Board of Trustees Chair Donald King on March 3 in a joint statement. 

"Atlantic Union College has changed from being a full-service liberal arts college to specializing in programs that focus on social action and Christian leadership."

"Atlantic Union College is, in significant ways, a new college," Wendth said. "It is customary for every college making such a change to have provisional accreditation and that the accrediting body observes evidence that restructuring is working.” NEASC will do a comprehensive review at a site visit in spring semester, 2009. He also added that all students' degrees and transfer credits are fully accredited.

Earlier this year, in a special briefing for AUC constituents, Wendth offered an update on the school’s status and future plans.

“Atlantic Union College ended the calendar year 2007 in much better financial condition than 2006,” Wendth reported, “yet AUC is perhaps the college whose financial problems have been most visible to lay members. Its creative responses, however, promise to change the conversation by returning to sustained financial stability and increasing academic quality by offering a focused ‘specialty’ academic program.”

Wendth, who became AUC president in 2007, said the school is refocusing its academic program to meet market needs and ensure the 126-year-old college’s financial viability.

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
HISTORIC CAMPUS: Atlantic Union College, celebrating its 126th anniversary this year, is the oldest Seventh-day Adventist college still on its original site. [Photo: AUC]
“Beginning this very next school year, August, 2008,” he said, “AUC will offer a specialized curriculum focused on Community Engagement and Christian Leadership. All [AUC] curricula will prepare graduates for careers in professions that serve others and improve society— careers in education, healthcare, ministry, and similar “helping” professions. Very importantly, it also will now offer one of the few degrees in Christian leadership in the United States and the only bachelor’s degree in Christian leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist educational system.”

Graduates will be prepared either to enter the workforce with leadership skills or to continue into graduate studies in Christian leadership elsewhere, the school said. 

“All students, no matter what profession they are preparing for,” says Wendth, “will be prepared to actively engage with their communities. General Education courses—required by all U.S. colleges and universities— at AUC will include courses that develop the understanding to analyze social problems and the skills to act to help fix them—actively practicing the gospel in the most real ways possible.”

Additional information about Columbia Union College can be found online at
www.cuc.edu. Atlantic Union College’s Web address is www.auc.edu.
 
                                                                             -- AR Staff with reports from AUC and CUC public relations

 

 


 
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