By W. Ken Nelson - August 28, 2018

The Future of Adventist Higher Education: Chicago Summit 2018 was the culmination of years of work to bring together administrators of SDA higher education institutions in the North American Division. Themed “Envisioning the future of Adventist Higher Education in North America and planning strategically to ensure strong, faith-based education in a financially challenging, increasingly secular environment,” it was seen as a way to continue with steps towards strengthening Adventist institutions. Loma Linda University (LLU) supported this effort by sending administrators, faculty and staff to represent LLU’s mission, vision, and values.

LLU’s Provost, Dr. Ron Carter, shared with ANI what this meant for LLU. As an initial expectation of what hoped to be accomplished in Chicago, Dr. Carter explained that LLU and others “wanted to finally get traction to ideas that had been discussed by the college presidents and the academic deans for well over a decade.” He emphasized “the shrinking numbers of Adventist students going to college and a small percentage that are going to Adventist colleges versus the private and the state schools.” Dr. Carter noted that plans for the future called for level 5 integration, a classification developed in 2009 by a taskforce formed by AACU that met in Denver, CO. Level 5 thinking promoted the creation of one system with current SDA schools becoming known as Adventist University PUC, Adventist University La Sierra, Adventist University Loma Linda, etc. Some believe, Dr. Carter said, that such a merger would potentially produce real savings as well as providing common platforms for education improvements. So, the expectation for the Chicago meeting was to agree to “a definite plan to move ahead by creating an Adventist higher education system…” “We believe that this system ought to be produced over the next five years, and that certainly by 2030 we would have put together a coalition of colleges that was very meaningful,” Dr. Carter stated. This would be a coalition that was formed where boards and the regional accreditation would remain as is, but there would be a high level of integration. Dr. Carter explained further that “Most of us on the steering committee believe that in Chicago we wouldn’t get that goal, so we created kind of a Chicago declaration that we thought was aspirational.” The committee anticipated changes to the declaration. Dr. Carter explained, “We predicted what we would follow the typical academic approach, create a series of committees and study groups and put ourselves on a clear calendar.” It was expected that there would be annual reports from schools on the progress they were making towards the Chicago declaration.

On the question of what influence this Chicago declaration would have on Adventist education and LLU in particular, Dr. Carter explained, “The fact that the attendees for the first time included board chairs and other conference and union officials there is, I think now, a new level of awareness that if we don't do something that's creative and progressive that we will lose colleges in the next few years.” This gave a sense of urgency to the initiative. Presidents are now asked to appoint a project manager on their school campus who will “work with faculty and administration to conceive of ways in which synergies can occur.” How this will affect Loma Linda is uncertain as ultimately this is a NAD movement and LLU is a GC school. Our sister colleges did state openly that they value having Loma Linda as a partner in this process.

Dr. Carter noted that the summit had excellent speakers and consultants who reported on analyses done nationwide on private Christian schools and about Adventist higher education in particular. One of the presenters’ comments stood out, “You guys don't realize the gem that you have. Given the uniqueness and strength of your message, we’re amazed that you haven't marketed it better and told your story better.”

Part of the process at the summit was to put together a list of what the attendees would like to have accomplished by 2030. To facilitate this, participants divided into groups to answer the following question, “If you were transported into the year 2030 what are the top five outcomes the Chicago summit process did for you or you accomplished because of it?” Through this process the LLU group developed the following five statements.

LLU will have:

  1. Graduated SDA’s who are preferred employees because of their values, leadership, skills, compassion, and integrity.
  2. Produced positive Adventist identity that is embraced/appreciated by the world.
  3. Developed an integrated K-G system of excellence, fully inspired by Jesus--who is known through scripture and a life of service--is appreciated by the world that has produced brand trust loyalty.
  4. Used technology and collaboration with SDA partners to control costs and overcome geography and disparities.
  5. Developed a system of global campuses for service opportunities and education.

At the Future of Adventist Higher Education: Chicago Summit 2018 it was voted to continue the discussion by passing a modified Chicago declaration. Dr. Carter warned that it is natural for regional groups to get together to develop partnerships, especially when they don't believe the collective is moving fast enough. “While regionality is easier than system-wide cooperation, I hope we don't form small balkanized federations that further separate the sisterhood of higher education.”

Adventist education depends on us carefully and prayerfully staying true to the mission of Jesus Christ. Working together through this summit was a step towards that goal.