Operating one of the largest church-supported educational systems in the world, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is facing challenges on several fronts: How many students who are not Adventist does it take to make an Adventist school, college or university risk losing its Adventist culture? What factors are keeping Adventist youth from attending Adventist schools?
Addressing such issues has been the mission of the General Conference Commission on Higher Education, which began its work early in 2001. The panel is meeting at the world church headquarters this week, seeking answers to these and other questions.
Acceptance of Adventist education by those who are not members of the Adventist Church is both an opportunity and a challenge, according to Dr. Garland Dulan, world church education director.
Between 2000 and 2001 more than 60 percent of new students who came in to Adventist schools were not members of the Adventist Church, he says. “This indicates that the value of our educational system is considered very, very important. But then we have to ask the question, ‘Why is it that we are not getting more Adventists into our schools?’ It’s not enough to have almost all Adventist teachers. We need to have Adventist students as well.”
Education within the Seventh-day Adventist Church is experiencing a substantial growth within a system that has more than 6,350 primary schools, colleges and universities in 145 countries. Also, because of the growth rate the church is experiencing, Adventist educators are looking at a need for a global plan for how higher education will continue to develop worldwide.
Dr. Hudson Kibuuka, education director for the church in the East-Central Africa region, agrees with Dulan’s evaluation of the issues. “It’s only an opportunity if we do it right. The Commission is looking at the global objective for Adventist education as a united body, moving together. We will analyze and understand the data we have received [from the world regions] and take steps toward that direction.”
Kibuuka explained that some of the challenges come with the church’s decisions to establish schools of higher learning in cooperation with government entities. In several countries the church, because of its quality of education, is encouraged to establish new schools. The cost is yet another factor. To some church members, cost of education prohibits them from sending their children to Adventist schools. In the territories Kibbuka supervises, the ratio of Adventists to those of other religious persuasions is about even. He also expressed a concern that some Adventist church members may be limited in their appreciation of the philosophy of Adventist education. “To go to Adventist schools is more than just having a Sabbath free from educational work,” Kibuuka says.
Dulan indicated that several issues needed to be faced first. This includes how the panel would go about meeting their six terms of reference: making recommendations as to what will be involved in developing a global plan; collecting data from all the higher educational institutions around the world that relate to strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing them; looking for any duplications of programs to see whether schools are competing with each other, rather than assisting each other; looking at what’s necessary to begin new programs; financial viability; and developing the administration to ensure that as the system grows, it remains a unified system.
The Commission collected data from Adventist higher educational institutions worldwide to develop a profile of the school system in each division, or administrative region. They also looked at how much money the church’s world headquarters, or General Conference, has appropriated for education between 1996 and 2000. “The idea was to put them [profiles] side by side so one could see all the programs being offered and how much money is coming in,” Dulan says.
The Commission also hopes to discover areas of the world where there are new members of the church but no Adventist schools. “We need to think about where we’ll build our next school,” Dulan says. There has to be dialogue between the various levels of church organization, he explains.
Information collected from the church’s world divisions was passed on to researchers Dr. Werner Vyhmeister, an assistant secretary of the Commission, and Dr. LeVerne Bissell, statistician for the Commission, who have synthesized the information into a report that will explain “what is really happening in higher education and to recommend ways by which the global plan of higher education can be developed.” Meeting April 1 and 2, all members of the Commission, coming from the church’s 13 world regions, will consider the preliminary draft of the report and make recommendations.
Dulan explains that the hope of the meetings is for members to ask, “What is it we would like the church to know about higher education around the world? What are the major issues, major challenges it faces? What recommendations do we have so that the mission of the church will be carried out in the future in light of the changes taking place around the world?”
According to Roy Ryan, Commission secretary, the final report should be one that “sets forth what Seventh-day Adventist education reaffirms, what it’s all about. Its central focus is redemption, and [its] links to the church are strengthened.”
The report will be revised and presented to Annual Council in the fall of this year, a meeting at the church’s world headquarters that includes church leaders from around the world.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has more than 1,187,000 students and some 59,000 teachers in its schools worldwide.