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Future Shock

Faith-Based Entrepreneurship: Cross-Subsidizing Spiritual Mission Universities

University Business, Jul 2010

We thought at first it was the bounce book authors get when the timing is right for their titles, in our case, Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

Yet, we sensed a micro-trend among small, religious institutions looking for everlasting spiritual redemption and long-term economic viability. Indeed, well beyond viability, this new breed of contemporary Christian colleges have intentionally developed new revenue streams—providing financial replenishment for faith-based, liberal arts residential campuses.

As Florida's first Catholic university chartered in 1889, Saint Leo University offers students a traditional, residential campus and a Benedictine higher learning experience. That said it is easy to forget that Saint Leo once teetered on the economic brink. Under new leadership over the last decade, Saint Leo's achieved a stunning reversal of fortune, fueled by online program expansion, new opportunities for place-bound student audiences, and learning sites on military bases in the United States and overseas. President Arthur Kirk notes, "It is very much about striving to achieve maximum potential—which I see as enormous and still beyond our comprehension."

Wittenberg University (Ohio) represents a best-practice campus in the finest Lutheran tradition, yet generating non-tuition revenue through savvy grantsmanship. President Mark Erickson suggests that the university community must continue to bring the world to Wittenberg and Wittenberg to the world. Wittenberg's internationally recognized program in East Asian Studies is now over 40 years old, and has established the first-ever SBA-funded East Asian Institute, an initiative that connects the historic strengths of Wittenberg's East Asian program with its business and economics programs.

This new breed of contemporary Christian colleges have developed new revenue streams.

Chartered in 1918, as the first comprehensive, undergraduate liberal arts college affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Atlantic Union College (Mass.) has had a proud history of providing a classical, liberal arts undergraduate program — a rigorous program which produces working professionals in the fields of law, medicine, business, and social work.

That said, AUC, like other small, religiously affiliated, tuition dependent colleges, is now exploring collaboration with for-profit institutions, which can bring significant capital, infrastructure, marketing, and technology investment to jumpstart AUC's distance learning capacity. Beyond for-profit partnerships, AUC has developed 2+2 bachelor degree completion partnerships with its neighboring community college, MassBay — a comprehensive public two-year college in Wellesley. According to President Norman Wendth, the college's "creative responses promise to change the conversation by returning to sustained financial stability and increasing academic quality by offering a focused 'specialty' academic program."

Beyond the Catholic and Lutheran examples, William Boozang, director of adult and graduate studies at Eastern Nazarene College (Mass.), cites ENC's 2+2 partnership with Massasoit Community College (Mass.) as a major source of non-traditional revenue — critical resources to preserve ENC's Nazarene heritage for the betterment of ENC and its traditional, full-time, residential students.

So, what do Saint Leo's, Wittenberg University, Atlantic Union and Eastern Nazarene all have in common? These institutions have successfully cross-subsidized their religious missions and classical liberal arts programs, and importantly, demonstrated a strong sense of core Christian values and an abiding commitment to ethical stewardship and faith-based social entrepreneurship.

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.), and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.