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By the AT News Team, August 27, 2013

The publishing houses operated in the United States by the Seventh-day Adventist denomination may not be able to talk merger, but yesterday the Adventist Review announced that three educational institutions are planning a collaborative arrangement to save money and strengthen their offerings. Southern Adventist University (SAU) in Collegedale, Tennessee; Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) in Keene, Texas; and Union College (UC) in Lincoln, Nebraska; have launched the Adventist Educational Alliance (AEA)
 
“We believe we can achieve some efficiencies that in turn will help us keep the cost of tuition from rising as rapidly,” Dr. John Wagner, president of UC, was quoted. Dr. Gordon Bietz, president of SAU, noted the rapid change in higher education, including the establishment of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) available for free from leading universities around the world. These MOOCs do not usually, in and of themselves, lead to a degree, but their availability is changing the landscape, he said. "We want to make sure that we’re not left behind,” Bietz explained.
 
Other Adventist universities and colleges may join the consortium, Bietz said. The question of whether Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan; and Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama; will participate is a bit more complicated because those two schools are connected directly to the denomination's General Conference instead of the North American Division.
 
Among the steps contemplated is using one recruiter to represent the three schools when visiting Adventist secondary schools and events, along with finding a way to merge some “back office” administrative functions. These and other ideas could save money for the institutions. Bietz said SAU is aligning its school year with the other two schools in order to allow students to take online and other courses from the related institutions. Cost savings could help keep tuition costs lower.
 
Together, the three institutions enroll roughly 15 percent of the total enrollment in Adventist colleges and universities in North America, which was about 28,300 last year. SAU had nearly 2,700 students last year, UC 800 and SWAU about 700. Registration is currently underway at all three schools and numbers for the new school year are not yet available. These three are generally seen as the more conservative of the denomination's colleges and universities.
 
All together there are 16 Adventist institutions in the United States and Canada. Loma Linda University is the denomination's health sciences center, the only one with a medical school. Two of the others–Kettering College in Dayton, Ohio, and Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando–are operated by health care organizations affiliated with the denomination. Oakwood University is the only Adventist institution among the historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. Andrews University (AU) in Michigan is the home of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, as well as a business school and other graduate programs. Griggs University operates as an extension branch of AU. La Sierra University, Pacific Union College and Walla Walla University (WWU) are spread about equidistance along the Pacific coast where the largest Adventist population resides. WWU is the only Adventist institution with an engineering school and Canadian University College in Red Deer, Alberta, is the only Adventist institution in Canada. Washington Adventist University is located in the U.S. capital and has a large, non-traditional enrollment, including graduate programs, as well as a traditional college program. Weimar College in the mountains near Sacramento is a very small, independent and unaccredited institution which surprised everyone recently by announcing that it is seeking accreditation. Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts lost its accreditation and ceased operations, then announced non-accredited Bible worker training courses and recently announced that it continues to seek approval to reopen.
 
Dr. Larry Blackmer, education vice president for the NAD, voiced his approval of the new collaborative. "The future of Adventist higher education lies in finding ways to collaborate and work together to enhance the instructional value to students and to facilitate the mission-driven focus of Adventist education," Blackmer told the Adventist Review. "The alliance … is exciting and at the same time challenging. Anytime change is in the wind, it is always unsettling. These administrations need to be supported and encouraged to build the best higher educational system we can for our young people."
 
A previous collaboration among the denomination's higher education institutions in North America, Adventist Colleges Abroad, has by all accounts been very successful. Over the years, the question has been raised a number of times as to whether the Adventist community has sufficient resources to sustain all of these institutions.
 
Portions of this report are from an Email bulletin released by the Adventist Review, written by its news editor, Mark Kellner.