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Bible schools react to changing world

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Largely prompted by declining enrollments, administrators at Christian-based colleges Evangel University, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Central Bible College and Baptist Bible College are preparing for uncertain futures.

On June 22, the consolidation of CBC, AGTS and Evangel took a major step when leaders from the three schools submitted a mammoth application to the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission.

According to Byron Klaus, president of AGTS and vice chairman of the steering committee responsible for assembling the consolidation, the hard-copy application was roughly 450 pages – supported by at least 4,500 pages of documentation.

“I don’t even want to think about how many hours we put into it,” Klaus said of the work that officially began last August after Assemblies of God’s board of trustees voted to approve consolidation to help bolster a push for more students.

In May, BBC’s board of trustees hired Mark Milioni as president following November’s resignation of Jim Edge for personal reasons. At the close of the spring semester, the school eliminated five positions in an administrative restructuring. The school is now considering millions of dollars in upgrades to attract more students, school officials said.

A common theme among the schools’ moves is declining student enrollments.

At BBC, for instance, enrollment has fallen by roughly 55 percent during the last 10 years to approximately 400 last fall, Milioni said.

“There have been slight declines going on for decades. Really, there are just not as many young people going into ministry – there have been several Bible colleges that have gone out of business in just the last few years, unfortunately, because of declining attendance,” Milioni said, pointing to Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minn., as an example.

The moves may be connected to changing attitudes about faith among youth and adults in America. According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life – which conducted 35,000 interviews with individuals 18 and older in 2007 – 28 percent of adults have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all. While 62 percent of Americans ages 70 or older claim a protestant faith, only 43 percent of those ages 18 to 29 make the same claim, according to the survey.

Financial strains are at play for the Assemblies of God institutions. According to a June 2011 report by a task force assembled to determine if consolidation was feasible, net combined assets of CBC, AGTS and Evangel dropped by $7.42 million 2008–10 and the schools’ combined debt load, including lines of credit, amounted to $32 million in fiscal 2009–10, according to an audit by BKD LLP. In calling for the three schools to come together, the task force said declining enrollment at CBC needed to be addressed.

CBC President Gary Denbow, who’s serving as secretary of the consolidation steering committee, said student enrollment dropped to roughly 650 in 2011 from around 850 in 2000. While Evangel’s enrollment has grown steadily to a record high of roughly 2,100 today, the school has only added about 500 students in the last 30 years.

The report estimates the consolidated university would have an enrollment of 2,900, well short of Assemblies of God’s long-term goal to increase enrollment to 10,000 if consolidation is approved by the accreditation authority.

From 1990 to 2009, the report states the number of students in all multimajor-endorsed Assemblies of God postsecondary schools, excluding AGTS and Global University, increased by 57 percent to 11,737. However, the number of students in singular major schools or Bible colleges fell by 16 percent to 1,415 students enrolled.

Klaus said consolidation would help reduce the debt, mostly by eliminating redundancies in the three systems.

“There isn’t an institution – Missouri State, Drury [universities] – that isn’t trying to find efficiencies of scale. … To effectively do our mission, we have to restructure for financial stewardship,” Klaus said. “It’s about survival in the 21st century. That means you don’t have three (information technology) systems. You don’t have three business systems. You don’t have three (human resources) systems.”

Denbow said the move to operate the schools as a singular institution should help fulfill Assemblies of God’s aims.

“We have some strong goals, as a church, here in the United States for planting new churches and raising new congregations. An overriding reason for the consolidation is the enhancement of ministerial training,” Denbow said. “We’ll have the School of Theology and Church Ministry that will operate there at the university that will start with undergraduate [students] and go all the way through doctoral training at the seminary. We will have a flow of education that extends from the entry level to the highest possible training.”

Denbow said job losses are likely to come among staff members, and he declined to provide an estimate on the number of cuts. If the consolidation is approved – a decision is expected in February 2013 – he said faculty would be guaranteed their positions through the spring semester of 2014. As for his position, Denbow said he’d likely manage CBC’s endowment, which will continue after the school is operating under the Evangel umbrella.

BBC officials said no teachers were let go in the recent layoffs.

According to Douglas Cox, BBC’s chairman of the board of trustees, the school – which was founded in 1950 and graduated nationally known evangelist Jerry Falwell – grew in popularity until the mid-1970s when enrollment peaked around 1,600 in 1975. Now, Milioni said the school is paying down $3 million in debt it has incurred in recent years from campus upgrades. He said a roughly $50,000 renovation on a neglected campus property was completed July 10, and will open as a coffee house in the fall.

Armed with $500,000 from 800 gifts received since May, Cox said school officials are discussing plans for what could be millions of dollars in upgrades during the next five years, though those details have yet to be ironed out.

Cox said times have been tough for the school that has roughly 100 full-time and part-time employees, but work is under way to see BBC into the future.

“We are restructuring administratively, so that we can refocus priorities on the core issue of academics,” Cox said. “This is not the best of times for Bible colleges in Springfield, but we do think we are at a point of renewal. We think we have laid the foundation to see the enrollment climb.”[[In-content Ad]]

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