Andreasen Eyes Cautious Growth
for Andrews University
Forty percent of AU students involved in postgraduate programs
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Adventist News Network
t a time when many Christian colleges and universities in North America are struggling, or even closing their doors, Andrews University, a tertiary school owned by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, is flourishing. Enrollment has recovered from a post-9/11 slump, and more students are involved in graduate programs, an estimated 40 percent, the school says.
Niels-Erik Andreasen is in his 14th year as president of the school, the longest tenure so far among North American Adventist university presidents. He formerly headed up Adventist-owned Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington. Andreasen says his "ambition" for Andrews is to see the southwest Michigan university "setting the academic agenda" among top, historic Christian universities, while maintaining its uniquely Adventist orientation.
Andrews University, established in 1874, was named after John Nevins Andrews, the first overseas missionary sponsored by the Adventist Church. Andreasen holds two AU degrees -- a bachelor of divinity and a master of arts in Biblical Studies, which he earned after graduating with a bachelor's in religion and history from church-owned Newbold College in England.
Recently, Andreasen sat down with Adventist News Network to discuss the university's new $2 million main entrance, its role among the church's other educational institutions and how the recent economic downturn might challenge Adventist education.
CONTEMPLATION: Neils-Erik Andreasen, in his fourteenth year as president of Andrews University, a General Conference-owned tertiary institution, ponders a point during the 2008 Annual Council in Manila, Philippines. [Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]
Adventist News Network: During your tenure at Andrews, you've witnessed a number of other Adventist colleges become comprehensive universities, such as Southern Adventist University and Walla Walla University. How does this change the role of Andrews?
Niels-Erik Andreasen: Andrews can no longer claim to be the only Adventist comprehensive university or even the biggest one -- not in the United States, certainly not internationally. But it's still the one to which people look to take the lead in quality of education, postgraduate studies and education that continues to combine faith-based thinking with higher academic qualities. We have words for that, like "flagship" and so on, but that can be misunderstood to mean, say, "more important" or something, but I think what it really means is that Andrews is the place where greater expectations may be placed. Our role is not merely to teach a bunch of classes and hand out degrees, but to think about what the position of this university -- of all Adventist universities -- should be in American higher education in the 21st century.
ANN: Some have suggested that the growth of other Adventist universities is drawing students away from Andrews. Do you see this as a problem?
Andreasen: No. Growing, and moving forward with a new idea is something we should do in the company of others. Some people may regret that there is Southern or Southwestern or Walla Walla or La Sierra, and I'm saying 'No, that's not something to regret, it's an indication that Andrews is on the right path, carrying this legacy of leadership forward in this 21st century.' It's a little like the church's non-smoking plan. For a while, the Adventists were the only ones doing it, and we were very proud of it. Now, you barely hear about stop-smoking plans because everyone is [quitting smoking]. So I always consider it a blessing when other people join good ideas.
ANN: You alluded earlier that an education at Andrews was inevitable for many students simply because they were church members and it was a church institution. Has that attitude changed over the years?
Andreasen: Yes, it used to be we would say, 'If you bring together a bunch of Adventist students and Adventist teachers you've got Adventist education, by just bringing these people together.' It's not as simple as that anymore. I think there's growing awareness among students and their parents that a good education can be had in many places. And so this monopoly we used to have -- if you're an Adventist wanting an undergraduate or graduate education, you come to Andrews -- is lost.
That means we now have to explain ourselves, justify ourselves. We have had to legitimize the conversation that we really never had before, and that is, 'What is distinctive about this place?' And it has to be defined in the context of higher academic quality, because that's what's being asked for now. Andrews is now seeking to demonstrate that higher academic quality by both external, common standards and by internal, Adventist standards.
GLOBAL RELATIONS: Andrews Unversity’s programs and reach extend around the world. Here, Andreasen speaks with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s Prince Raad Bin Zeid during 2007 commemoration ceremonies marking the fortieth anniversary of an AU-sponsored dig in Madaba, Jordan. [Photo: Dave B. Sherman/Andrews University]
ANN: The newest building on campus, the Howard Performing Arts Center, was fully funded by donations. Does this signal a shift from church subsidies to other ways of financing the cost of education at Andrews?
Andreasen: Andrews still gets church subsidies, but the future is certainly institutional development, even though we're starting late in the game. We have to recognize that an institution like Andrews, which may charge its students 70 percent of the cost of teaching them, means that there's 30 percent of the cost associated with teaching students for which students do not pay.
It's been my understanding that Adventist education will not survive to the end of this century unless we find other sources of income, unless we create some development activities. Not because the church is unwilling to give us money, but because the church subsidies, though they're growing, are not growing at anywhere near the clip of the growth in educational costs.
This building [knocks on desk in administration building] was built with church money. The fine arts center didn't see a dime of church money. So yes, that's a huge shift. This is coming late and it's difficult, but Andrews University must be out front in that effort, not that it needs to get more money than anybody else, but it must have a good development program that will support endowments and the future of the university.
ANN: How strong is enrollment at Andrews right now?
Andreasen: During my time here, it's been up and down several times. It was very high in the late '90s, the highest we had had in our history, then it dropped, and it's now been growing again. That's a reminder that this is a dynamic kind of business. There are many factors. One was 9/11, which was a huge blow to Andrews. Our international student population dropped -- they couldn't get visas. Since 2004, however, enrollment has been increasing every year, to varying degrees.
This year, we enrolled almost 200 new students. The staff in Enrollment have combined Marketing and Recruitment with Enrollment, which has been very good for Andrews. I think the enthusiasm of the leadership on campus has also contributed to [enrollment increases]. The highest enrollment happens to be in schools where there are new deans who have brought enthusiasm to the task. The new students who have come to campus are not the ones we lost. We have a bunch of new students in architecture; we didn't have them in 2000.
Last year we had a lot of growth in the music department, probably connected to the Howard [Performing Arts Center], which opened in 2003. The seminary had enormous growth after the new building was built, from 450 to about 900 students. So the growth has happened for the most part in new areas that didn't have this growth before the dip. My comment to my colleagues is, 'Let's thank God for it, but not take it for granted.'
-- Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Lechleitner is a 2006 graduate of Andrews Univeristy and a former staff writer for the school’s Office of Integrated Marketing and Communications.