By Mark A. Taylor
Last month, two Christian colleges announced their intent to pursue a partnership with each other. Johnson University, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Florida Christian College, Kissimmee, Florida, hope to become one institution, perhaps as soon as this year, according to Johnson’s president, Gary Weedman.
Last year Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary announced a similar plan to consider uniting under one administration. According to Milligan’s president, Bill Greer, and Emmanuel’s president, Michael Sweeney, those talks are continuing on course.
The benefits of such actions seem clear. “There’s just not enough money in our movement to support all the schools we have,” Sweeney said to me.
“It’s in the nature of institutions that they want to maintain their independence,” Greer said. “But in today’s economy it is increasingly difficult and, in my opinion, not good stewardship. We have a lot to gain to partner together.”
In the case of Johnson and Florida, the numbers tell the story. Florida Christian College’s assets are far greater than the school’s debt. Weedman believes Johnson could restructure Florida’s debt, continue to build enrollment (enrollment has been growing at Florida for years), and serve many needs in the area. When the Florida trustees asked Johnson to consider merger talks, the benefits to both schools became clear.
We could wish the positive reaction in Florida were true in every situation when the idea of college mergers is introduced.
From other corners we’ve heard about bruised egos, leaders defending their turf, or alumni protesting a possible name change if their school entertained merger with another.
But isn’t it better to have a degree from a school whose name has changed than from a school that no longer exists? And here’s the rest of the story: Some in the know say more than one of the schools listed in our report cannot survive for five more years, maybe not even one more year.
It will be a tragedy if the future of these schools is left to wishful thinking when proactive decision-making could have resulted in a better future. Now is the time for administrators to offer, trustees to embrace, and alumni to support frank discussions about the best way to steward the resources that have been poured into these colleges for decades.