Board mulls the future of Columbia Union College
One option would transfer school’s ownership to Adventist HealthCare
Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006
The Columbia Union College Board of Trustees is considering three proposals regarding the future of the Takoma Park college, including one that would transfer the ownership of the school to the health care network that operates Washington Adventist Hospital.
That proposal, which would allow Adventist HealthCare to assume control of the 102-year-old college, was delivered in September. A college commission looking at the future of the school asked Adventist HealthCare to submit the plan, in which Columbia Union would become a college of health sciences and professional studies.
William Robertson, president and CEO of Adventist HealthCare, presented the proposal to the college’s board Sept. 20. The board of trustees is expected to consider that proposal and two others Oct. 18. A second proposal would maintain the liberal arts curriculum at the Seventh-day Adventist school, and a third would combine elements of the first two.
Washington Adventist Hospital, located across Flower Avenue from the college, announced last year it intends to find another location outside of Takoma Park because it does not have enough room to expand. A new site has not been announced.
When asked if the college could be relocated as well, an Adventist HealthCare spokeswoman said that would have to be determined after the decision.
‘‘If Columbia Union College was to accept [the proposal], we would carefully consider the location of the college in our planning, in order to create the best future for the college,” said Marisa Lavine, assistant director of strategic communications for Adventist HealthCare, adding that if the current location is best for the college, then it would not be moved.
The proposal put together by Adventist HealthCare at the request of the college does not overlap with decisions being made regarding the relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital, as the two are ‘‘very separate initiatives,” Lavine said.
If the health care college proposal were selected, Columbia Union College would have academic programs in the nursing and allied health fields, and departments in adult and professional studies, religion, general studies and education. Other programs, including communications, pre-law and music programs, would be phased out in the first three years after the transfer of the college to Adventist HealthCare, according to the proposal submitted to the study commission in charge of looking at various scenarios concerning the future of the college. That commission was appointed a year ago by Harold Lee, former chairman of Columbia Union College Board of Trustees.
The second proposal is the two-college plan, similar to the school’s current focus, with a separate School of Arts and Sciences and School of Graduate and Professional Studies. Through this proposal, the school would remain independent in regards to making decisions on the school’s finances and development, but cuts to academic programs or aggressive strategies to address the college’s $7 million debt would also be required, according to an executive summary presented to the board detailing the pros and cons of both proposals.
The third option would combine the health curriculum with liberal arts.
‘‘At this point, we’re in the process ... there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ right now,” said Scott Steward, a spokesman for Columbia Union College. ‘‘The Board [of Trustees] will really examine the situation ... make a decision on the 18th as to which direction to pursue.”
Steward said the commission was formed in part to address the ‘‘financial realities the school was faced with,” including ‘‘changing enrollment trends” and operating costs in excess of tuition and subsidies coming into the college.
‘‘A good, solid, forward-looking institution does periodic self-studies,” Steward said. The last study commission appointed six years ago led to a growth in enrollment, donations and the revitalization of the campus, including a $4 million renovation of the girls’ dorm, Steward said.
Ella Simmons, chairwoman of this year’s study commission and a vice president of the Adventist Church’s General Conference, said the options were brought to the board after looking ‘‘widely, at every possibility that came to mind.” The commission came up with eight proposals to consider, which were narrowed to the two most viable — the Adventist HealthCare model and the two-college plan.
‘‘This was not our advice for the way [the board] should go ... these were models that looked like they might be viable for an institution such as Columbia Union College at this time,” Simmons said.
The college currently has several programs that collaborate with Washington Adventist Hospital, including nursing, psychology, theology and respiratory therapy.
The Kettering College of Medical Arts, another Adventist institution in Dayton, Ohio, operates under circumstances similar to the Adventist HealthCare proposal, although it attracts mostly non-Adventists.
Mindy Claggett, public relations officer at Kettering, said the school is placing a special recruiting emphasis on Adventist students, adding that the school’s narrow medical focus contributes to the minority number of Adventists and students in general.
Following the college’s Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 18, the College Constituency, which includes church and school administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and church members, will vote on the board’s suggestion Nov. 17.
Columbia Union College President Randal Wisbey was in meetings on Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman, and could not be reached for comment. Several instructors and professors at the college contacted on Monday and Tuesday declined to comment on the proposals, and referred comment to spokesman Steward.
Erwin Mack, one of 13 associate head elders at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church, said he had not heard of the proposals. ‘‘If I had my way, the general public would be aware of the school’s excellent adult education program ... as the only four-year liberal arts college in Montgomery County,” Mack said. ‘‘People aren’t taking advantage of it.”