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Christian college presidents react to Cascade’s closing


In the wake of news that Cascade College in Portland, Ore., will close at the end of the spring 2009 semester, The Christian Chronicle recently interviewed presidents of other small colleges associated with Churches of Christ.
Here are the questions and answers:
Question 1: What is your reaction to the closing of Cascade College?

Ken Hoppe, president of Crowley’s Ridge College, Paragould, Ark: “We are certainly saddened because they are a valuable service to our fellowship in the Northwest United States.”
   
Wayne Baker, president of York College, York, Neb.: “It saddens me to lose Cascade College. I know Cascade and its predecessor Columbia Christian have been vital to the growth of the Kingdom of God in the great Northwest. Countless folks both on and off campus have sacrificed for the institutions success and its sacred mission of serving students and their families. I understand the necessity of such action but it still grieves me as it does everyone involved.”

Rubel Shelly, president of Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Mich.: “I was very sad to learn that Cascade College will no longer operate as a four-year, degree-granting Christian College. I feel bad for the administration and faculty; lives will be disrupted at a very awkward time in the country’s economic life. I feel bad for the students; they must feel bewildered about the decisions they will be forced to make about continuing their college work at other places and in new social contexts.”

Kevin Vance, president of Western Christian College, Regina, Saskatchewan: “I am deeply saddened for everyone at Cascade. I believe in Christian education. I believe a Christian school is imperative to train and teach pulpit ministers, preachers, missionaries and the next generations of Church leaders. A Christian college is a huge support and resource to the church, the community, a nation and the world. To lose this institution is a sorrowful calamity to the Pacific Northwest.”

Dennis Jones, president of Heritage Christian University, Florence, Ala: “The closing of a sister school always saddens us. Our hearts go out to Cascade’s students, employees, and supporters. While God can turn this closing into a blessing, these will be difficult days for many good people.”

James Johnson, president of Ohio Valley University, Vienna, W.Va.: “The closing of Cascade should be a wake-up call for everyone who promotes Christian higher education. It is sad to witness their closing.”
Question 2: How difficult is it to maintain the financial stability of a small college such as yours?
   
Ken Hoppe: “We are blessed by continued constituency support from donors, former students, and current students. Our enrollment has been increasing each year.”
   
Wayne Baker: “To maintain financial viability of a small Christian college is a challenge beyond understanding of folks who have not tried to accomplish it daily. The challenges and issues of academia are exactly the same as larger institutions; however, there are fewer resources to accomplish the same mission. Academic integrity, meeting student expectations in the market place and maintaining a stellar physical plant are among the daily issues. Then off-campus constituencies of alumni, friends, parents, donors and the educational and general public bring their own special needs that must be addressed daily. All of this is insurmountable without the blessings of God as He brings to the small college environment people who are dedicated to its success. It is the most faith building experience of my life to watch godly men and women sacrificially share in their resources so that others might be taught spiritual principals daily and be prepared for a successful career in this world. God really has His hand on York College and we give Him praise daily for His watch care over this ministry.”
   
Rubel Shelly: “In the best of times and under normal circumstances, small Christian colleges live a hand-to-mouth existence. Endowment is limited or non-existent. The student pool is shrinking. The generation most interested in supporting Christian education as an outreach tool for the kingdom is dying off. As everyone knows, however, these are by no means the “best of times,” and very little about the current economic climate can be called “normal.” Not only Christian schools at various levels but a variety of other ministries as well may fail for the lack of funding.”
   
Kevin Vance: “It can be extremely challenging at times. There are two challenges, balancing the budget and making cash flow work. Many small businesses struggle with these two areas.” 
   
Dennis Jones: “Maintaining financial stability is an ongoing, ever-present concern. While our endowment greatly exceeds our debt, we know the challenge of maintaining healthy cash flow in difficult economic times. With our donation-dependent budget, we work hard every day to help brethren realize the value of our work. It is a major challenge.”
Question 3: What specific financial hurdles have you faced in recent times?
Ken Hoppe: “We have been experiencing a hurdle in the area of budget control. Due to the situation of the economy, general operation expenses have been increasing.”
Wayne Baker: “Attempting to operate with a balanced budget has been our most recent financial challenge. I’m pleased to say that God has allowed us to accomplish this goal for this fiscal year. Recruiting and maintaining gifted and dedicated faculty and staff is a constant challenge.”
   
Rubel Shelly: “Located in the state hit hardest of all by the current financial crisis, Rochester College faces the same problems as Cascade, York, Ohio Valley, and other small schools to the third power. Plant closings, job loss, foreclosures, personal bankruptcies — Michigan leads the pack. So everything from student recruitment to institutional borrowing to gift solicitation has become more challenging. Rochester College was fortunate last spring to establish a partnership with Church Development Fund (CDF) to refinance its indebtedness. Without CDF, we could have found ourselves in a situation similar to that of Cascade College.
“Then there are the ongoing internal issues of retaining faculty and employees on the salaries we can pay, competing with larger schools that offer a greater variety of programs, and the like. Even with the help we have received from CDF, generous donors, and dedicated persons who continue to invest their lives here daily, we are by no means “out of the woods” yet at Rochester College.”
Kevin Vance: “We have been very blessed. Over the last two years, our board has set a strategic vision for the institution and our administration has written a strategic plan. We have launched a major campaign and have seen unprecedented levels of financial support to our school as a result.  We have operated as a college for 40 years, and we rely on the generosity of our donors.”
 
Dennis Jones: “We began to notice a financial downturn beginning in the fall of 2007, and recognized it as a symptom of the overall economic recession. That downturn has continued to progress, and we had to put forth extra effort to balance the 2008 budget. Even so, we stepped out in faith in 2007-08 to build a new housing facility.”
James Johnson: “The national financial situation has had two direct impacts on OVU.  1. Many students who we expected to enroll as full-time students enrolled as part-time students in order to work more hours in their part-time jobs. (We have a record number of part-time students this semester). Many students we expected to enroll this fall have had to delay enrollment. 2. Donors are delaying and/or reducing gifts and pledge amounts.”
Question 4: How important is your college to the church in your region?
   
Ken Hoppe: “We receive a large amount of church support around a 250-mile radius, financially and in other ways. We receive constant encouragement from the church in the area.”
Wayne Baker: “It is impossible to overestimate how important York College has been to the growth of the Kingdom of God in the north central states. Countless congregations are effectively being lead by alumni from York College. The number of individual congregations in Nebraska alone has more than doubled since the churches of Christ began the operation of the college in 1956. To offer Christian education close to home with the same cultural values of the upper Midwest has been of incalculable value to the families of Churches of Christ.”
   
Rubel Shelly: “My sense is that all the regions where Christian Colleges exist have been enlarged and made stronger by their presence. So, while the so-called “church universal” needs nothing more than the promise of God to survive the worst that can be done by “the powers of hell,” it remains true that the “church local” is encouraged and built up by the students, employees, and faculty of Christian schools near them.”
   
Kevin Vance: “We believe our college is very important. The college trains leaders for the church, as well as leaders for the world (in terms of business, government, non-profit, health and education). We also train grassroots members for churches.  I don’t believe a Christian school is indispensable to the church, as God is sovereign and can accomplish his will without a Christian school in any given geography. But a Christian college does provide very strong resources for the church in its region and Biblical spiritual training and personal transformation for the next generation(s).”
Dennis Jones: “Many regional churches are staffed by our graduates, and we are constantly contacted by congregations across the nation in need of a minister, youth minister, or missionary. We’re often able to help, but the need is even greater than our ability to fill the vacancies. Watching the struggle to find trained, balanced ministers makes us all the more aware of the importance of our mission.”
Question 5: What are the major challenges that your college faces as it works to succeed and thrive?
   
Ken Hoppe: “We recently have an economic challenge in donor support for the budget. Since only seventy-five percent of the budget is covered by tuition, we rely on the other twenty-five percent through gifts.”
    
Wayne Baker: “Recruiting and maintaining talented faculty and staff remain very close to the top of the list of those essential components of a successful campus operation. With the right people in place and continued financial support from people who have been blest to be able to share their resources will allow us to attract and retain qualified students. Enrolling an increasing amount of students each fall is essential for success.”
   
Rubel Shelly: “For the foreseeable future, all Christian Colleges face some combination of the same problems — declining student pool from which to recruit, increased availability of state-funded and lower-cost community colleges, challenging economic times that make it harder to raise funds, and the like.”
Kevin Vance: “Enrollment is the next hurdle we have to overcome. We are taking several initiatives now to make sure that happens over the next three to five years. Those who have skills and knowledge in marketing, communication and branding tell me that it takes at least five years to see the results from a re-branding campaign. There are no quick fixes for systemic problems.”
Dennis Jones: “Our major challenge is finding more men who want to dedicate their lives to ministry and are willing to pay the price to prepare. By investing a few years in concentrated study, they can set the stage for lifelong effectiveness and growth. The Lord’s church deserves well-prepared leaders and teachers. A second challenge is continuing to provide a program in real world ministry, a program that balances strong academics with practical experience in ministry. Balance is essential to effective preparation.”
Question 6: Any other comments?

Ken Hoppe: “This has been a transition year for Crowley’s Ridge because of our change from a two-year junior college to a four-year college. This is one reason why we have increased enrollment, and continued hope for dramatic student increase over the next few years. The tuition increase throughout these next few years should help with our budget.”
   
Rubel Shelly: “The Board and Administration at Oklahoma Christian deserve a great deal of credit for trying to find a way to salvage and stabilize Cascade College. Incredibly, I have seen comments by some people online to the effect that Oklahoma Christian has exploited or otherwise handled its relationship with Cascade College in a self-serving way. Mike O’Neal and others associated with Oklahoma Christian extended themselves for the sake of trying to help a small school find a way to function and be healthy. That sort of harsh criticism surely comes from people who have no first-hand knowledge of just how difficult it is these days for small Christian Colleges to maintain themselves.”
   
Kevin Vance: “Again, I just am grateful to The Christian Chronicle for asking me these questions, as we (the staff and school) want all those who are experiencing a loss for their college and who have been directly affected by a verBoldy difficult decision, to know that we are praying for them in Canada. God Bless.”
   
Dennis Jones: “We are firmly committed to our mission of educating effective communicators of the gospel. The church must find a way to encourage more good men to preach and to educate more members for excellence in teaching and ministry, even during times of economic hardship. Smaller Christian colleges and universities will continue to play a vital role in that encouragement and education. There’s something unique about the smaller Christian campus.  With fewer distractions, it’s easier to keep our focus on the things that matter most.”
   
James Johnson: “All things considered, our Christian colleges should be prepared to meet the changing demands and trends of today’s college student. We must modify in order to accommodate older students, part-time students, and academic schedules that are compatible with a working-student’s schedule. This trend will not change for a long while.”

Filed under: Partners Staff Reports

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