Future of Adventist Distance Learning Optimistic as Griggs Expands
Move to Andrews, online courses on tap, new dean says

BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Adventist News Network

Seventh-day Adventist academic administrators are optimistic about the future of Griggs University. The church’s distance-learning institution is relocating from Silver Spring, Maryland, to church-run Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, the final step of a two-year transfer of oversight.

The move is expected to provide increased collaboration among Adventist educational institutions and lend Griggs the opportunity to benefit from the faculty base and increased resources for curriculum development at Andrews, church leaders said.

Ella Simmons, a general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, said the move would bring “fundamental” changes to Griggs, providing “valuable support and opportunities” for the institution.

“Both [Griggs and Andrews] will grow from this alliance; their capacity to provide education from a distance will increase in substantive ways,” Simmons said.

Veteran educator and academic administrator Alayne Thorpe is serving as interim president of Griggs University. Once Griggs University relocates to the Berrien Springs, Michigan, campus, Thorpe will continue to guide the institution in her capacity as dean of distance education for Andrews University.

SHIFTING SCENE: The Adventist Church’s distance-learning institution will continue its operations based at the Lake Union headquarters building in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. Above, the site in June 2011.  [PHOTO: Auston Ho]
The move from world church headquarters in Silver Spring to what is currently the church’s Lake Union Conference building adjacent to Andrews’ entrance is expected by mid-July, Thorpe said. Andrews recently purchased the conference building in preparation for the relocation, a June news release from the university said. Later Lake Union administration will move to a site in the area that is more suited to their staff, and the building will be renamed.

The church’s top administrative body voted to transfer Griggs’ oversight in October 2010, after the distance-education commission established in 2009 found Griggs’ limited resources could not handle the church’s distance-education needs. Shortly thereafter, Andrews’ board accepted the transfer of both Griggs University and Griggs International Academy.

Currently 4,500 students are enrolled in Griggs, with enrollment highest in the institution’s MBA program. About 1,000 Griggs students are enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12, and 2,000 more are taking college courses.

Thorpe said Griggs anticipates significant enrollment growth in grades 9 through 12, thanks to a new commitment to distance-learning technologies and the expansion of a partnership with Job Corps, a federal program to equip high school dropouts with education and career training.

“In too many places there’s a huge chasm between higher education and K-12. It shouldn’t be like that,” Thorpe said. By offering dual enrollment—in which students earn college credits while still in high school—Griggs can serve as a “vital link” between higher education and grade school, she said.

With the expansion of its online distance-learning offerings, Thorpe said Griggs is also recognizing an increase in nontraditional Adventist students—some choose not to attend Adventist schools, and others postpone college education to work so they don’t incur “the kind of educational debt facing some of our young people,” she said.

A credit hour at a typical Adventist university runs between $400 and $700; a comparable online course from Griggs can cost half as much because of decreased overhead, Thorpe said.

Still, online students enjoy many of the benefits of traditional classroom study, she said. New distance-learning technologies equip students with access to libraries, advisers, and professors.

Attending classes via video conferencing is another possibility as Griggs’ online programs expand, she said.




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