by Adventist Today News Team

Oakwood University has set a goal of increasing its enrollment from the current level of about 2,000 to 3,500 in the next few years. That could make it the largest Adventist university in the North American Division. To reach this goal, the university board earlier this week launched a number of initiatives around three strategic goals: a strong spiritual life, improved academics, and more efficient finances.

Spiritual LifeIn his first address in January, 2011, President Leslie Pollard vividly described what he called “Vision 2020.” By the year 2020, he said, Oakwood’s spiritual life would be “nationally recognized by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.” He saw increased use of technology supporting religious activities, including interactive e-Chapels and the OU Chapel Webcast. Campus life would center around lunch-hour “spiritual support services” for faculty and staff, Weeks of Prayer and Revival Weekends, male and female chaplains and student chaplains to“provide dormitory visitation, spiritual support counseling, group Bible studies and high-quality spiritual programming for on and off-campus students.”Additionally, OU's original LifeCore research on young adult spirituality (a yearly survey of students) provides annual data for targeted planning of the University's mission activities.

Academics:  By 2020, Dr. Pollard expects OU to include in its academic offerings an MBA in business leadership, a Master's degree in Teaching, a Master's Degree in Education (emphasis on Faith-Based Pedagogy), and a Doctor of Ministry in Urban Mission.  The Board of Trustees in a meeting earlier this week adopted a three-year pilot plan to form five new schools at the university: Arts and Sciences; Business, Adult and Continuing Studies; Education and Social Sciences; Nursing and Health Professions; and Religion. Oakwood seeks to build on its success in gaining prestigious awards such as its recent ISO 9001 certification. In a March, 2012 preliminary re-accreditation visit, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools scored OU at a whopping 98.9 percent. 

Another of Dr. Pollard’s dreams is OOU–Oakwood Online University, intended for US and overseas students.  He said, “By 2020, our committed and accomplished faculty contributes to the effective growth of these non-traditional revenue streams while serving at mission-focused Oakwood University.  The lower-cost revenue from Oakwood Online University helps grow the amount of institutional aid to needy students in our residential program.”
In the spring of 2011 an innovative program called the Pan-African Consortium of Colleges and Universities was launched at Oakwood, with agreements and affiliations among several sister universities. This program will exchange both students and teachers among a wide array of international colleges and universities.

Finances:    Improvements planned include grant-funding for targeted social science and scientific research on under-served populations in the region, growing endowments and a portfolio of diversified investments, market-normed salaries which will help to recruit excellent faculty and staff, the recovery of an industry base for student employment, and ambitious fundraising. Oakwood has raised $150,000 to date for the United Negro College Fund (a consortium of 39 colleges and universities of which Oakwood is a member), versus $40,000 last year. As of May 1, Kisha Norris, the sole black Adventist Certified Fundraising Executive, will become Oakwood’s Executive Director for Advancement. 

Oakwood is a historically African American institution which seeks growing diversity. Dr. Pollard has stated his commitment to “maintaining the historic HBCU mission of our founders, while growing our mission of recruitment to diverse communities.” As of fall 2011, 87 percent of students were African American and the remaining 13 percent of other ethnicities. Only 23 percent of the students were from Alabama. The majority of the students were women, although OU has the highest male enrollment of the UNCF colleges and universities, which average about one third male students. At least 31 percent of the students came from Adventist families.
As is true across the board in American universities, non-traditional students constitute the major source of growing enrollment. At Oakwood the Leadership Education for the Adult Professional (LEAP) program has been a key element. The university’s Director of Public Relations, Tim Allston, says that LEAP’s mission came from the instruction in Deuteronomy 15:1 to forgive debts every seven years. “If you came to Oakwood years ago, and the reason you didn’t come back is that you were carrying an unpaid bill, you can come back through the LEAP program, and if you keep your bill current, you will get ‘tuition amnesty’ for unpaid bills over seven years old.” Unlike most adult education programs, credits do not expire. Old credits will be accepted as long as transcripts are available (from the state board of education, if the school has since closed). LEAP enrollment has increased from 62 in the fall of 2010 to 135 in the fall of 2011, to 269 currently. Dr. Pollard, ever ambitious, sees 1000 per semester by 2020.