April 26, 2017: Efforts to reestablish Atlantic Union College after financial woes forced its closure in 2011 have been dealt a severe setback.
The school re-opened in 2015 but is set to lose one of its main funders. On April 9, the Southern New England Conference voted to stop sending approximately $800,000 that it gives to the institution annually. Conference president David M. Dennis explained the decision to his workers in this letter
AUC will receive no funding from the conference after July 31.
AUC President Avis Hendrickson framed the news optimistically. Worcester, Massachusetts-based news outlet telegram.com reported that the president saw the development as part of the process of bringing “reconciliation and unity” with the institution’s backers.
Hendrickson said she believed that the funding had not yet officially been rescinded.
She also said that she was unable to say what the implications of the Southern New England Conference withdrawing its funding would be should it actually take place.
According to the telegram.com report, Hendrickson said that the conference’s funding amounted to tuition support for 44 students.
However, she would not comment on how much of the school’s total operating budget came from these funds.
The president said that bigger picture considerations about the continuing viability of the school were a matter for the school’s board of trustees.
She said that the school would continue to operate until instructed to do otherwise.
Despite Hendrickson’s positive tone, many observers feel that this move marks the end of the effort to reestablish AUC, and wonder whether other Atlantic Union conferences, discouraged with the poor results of trying to restart AUC as an unaccredited school, may follow in withdrawing their subsidies.
The institution only offers two bachelor degrees (Religion and Theology) and a handful of professional certificates, making it difficult to recruit students.
Low enrollment is not helped by the school’s unaccredited status which means that students are unable to access financial aid to study at AUC.
In her official president’s welcome on the school’s homepage, Hendrickson stressed that financial stability is “important in the accreditation process.” She also added that AUC is “sustained by subsidies provided by the Atlantic Union Conference’s six local Conferences.”
Her message has not been updated to reflect the financial decision of the Southern New England Conference.
AUC is not alone in its troubles. The North American Division of the Adventist denomination has 13 colleges and universities which compete for funding and attendance from a limited pool of eligible students.
The question of what AUC’s eroding funding means for Adventist higher education in the region remains to be answered.
Currently, Adventist conferences in North America are still required to send funds to Oakwood University, Loma Linda University and the Andrews University-based Adventist Theological Seminary.
“This may be the sentinel event that marks the beginning of a division-wide reassessment of Adventist higher-education” said Winona Winkler Wendth, an AUC alumna and former faculty member whose family has been connected to the school since the 1930s. “We may need to ask whether keeping a college in every union is helping our mission.”