Johnson University Florida in Kissimmee will close on June 30, 2024, after the upcoming 2023-24 academic year.
According to an announcement at johnsonu.edu, “The campus will remain open and classes will continue through the upcoming academic year. The University is working individually with each student, each staff person, and each faculty member to help them with their next steps in education or employment.”
JUFL has about 40 employees and had just over 150 students enrolled in fall 2022. In the past 10 years, JUFL has graduated more than 300 students.
The school started in 1975 and was originally known as Central Florida Bible College. Its name was changed to Florida Christian College in 1986, and to Johnson University Florida in 2013, when it was acquired by Johnson University, Knoxville, Tenn. JU stepped in when FCC lost its accreditation and faced significant financial hardship.
Under the closure plan, JUFL students are invited to continue attending the Florida campus during the coming academic year. (No new students will be accepted after Aug. 31.) Options after this year include transitioning to the Tennessee campus or continuing online. Additionally, “transfer options” for JUFL students have been developed with the following schools: Florida College, Palm Beach Atlantic University, Southeastern University, Trinity College of Florida, and Warner University.
In announcing the closure, Johnson said the Knoxville Campus is not in danger of closing, though it acknowledged times are tough for colleges nationally. “So while we are financially stable, we are also being very careful to ‘live below our means’ and limit our spending.” Johnson added, “[W]e are committed to only spending a small percentage of our restricted funds (also sometimes called an endowment) so that money can continue to bless future generations of students.” Johnson University dates to 1893.
Here is how Johnson University announced the upcoming closure of JUFL at its website:
Johnson University acquired Florida Christian College in 2013. At that time, Florida Christian College had lost its accreditation and faced significant financial hardship. Johnson University’s trustees and leadership team believed Johnson could not only intervene in the immediate issues, but in the longer term could create a Florida campus that reached a more diverse student body, impacted a state with a significant number of Christian churches, and equipped more students for lives of ministry and service. This leadership team saw the creation of Johnson University Florida as aligned with the institutional mission of Johnson University.
Since 2013, Johnson University Florida has graduated more than 300 students to date. More than a third of them have graduated from our ministry programs, and others have gone on to meaningful work in business, counseling, education, nonprofit leadership, and other strategic vocations. We assembled an excellent faculty who implemented high-quality, relevant academic programs reflecting both Christian ministries and strategic vocations. We significantly improved facilities, including the new cafeteria and café, the soccer field, and the renovation of the Chapman Center gymnasium/auditorium. Many existing supporters of Florida Christian College rallied to our efforts and we made numerous new friends who are faithful in their prayer and financial support.
However, we continued to face challenges in enrollment at the Florida campus. Each academic year saw declining or disappointing results, which led to increasing operating deficits. In February 2021, Johnson’s Board of Trustees endorsed a “turnaround plan” that included four benchmarks to serve as barometers of the health of the campus and eight actions designed to impact the four benchmarks. The benchmarks were increasing student enrollment, improving student retention, decreasing the budget deficit on the Florida campus, and increasing gift income to the campus. Strategies implemented to affect these benchmarks included hiring a campus minister with additional responsibility for keeping students engaged and enrolled until graduation; the development of a reading lab and the hiring of new staff in the Academic Support Center; the addition of new sports including softball, baseball, and women’s soccer; and seeking funding for a center for multicultural ministry to be housed at JUFL.
Despite strong efforts from the Johnson University Florida faculty and staff, we have been unsuccessful in increasing enrollment significantly and the campus has not made sufficient progress toward its benchmarks. Therefore, today we are announcing the closure of Johnson University Florida, effective June 30, 2024.
The campus will remain open and classes will continue through the upcoming academic year. The University is working individually with each student, each staff person, and each faculty member to help them with their next steps in education or employment.
This decision was not made lightly. Some among our constituency might wonder why we did not make the decision earlier, before more money was invested in the campus. Others may question why we could not wait longer to make this decision, since so many students and colleagues we love are hurt by it. The answer to both groups is the same: our Board of Trustees was committed to resourcing and supporting the Johnson University Florida campus if it was on a path toward sustainability, and was reluctant to close the campus until they knew for sure it was no longer financially sustainable. Although many people have worked very hard to increase enrollment and lower the budget deficit on the campus, the Board decided the campus was not financially sustainable. Once this decision was made, stewardship of our resources and care for the Florida students and staff demanded that we act quickly to announce the closure of the campus.
We are grateful for the generosity of so many churches and individuals who have supported the mission of the school since its inception in 1976. The heart and soul of that mission will continue through Johnson’s efforts to educate Florida students who share a commitment to the Great Commission and a desire to extend God’s kingdom among all nations.
We are grieving with the campus community in Florida. This is a difficult time and we face challenging months ahead as we seek to support them, honor the history of this campus, and finish well. We will do everything we can to make it easier and to celebrate their good work. We appreciate your prayers as we move forward.
A list of frequently asked questions, along with responses, accompanies the closure announcement.
Johnson is the latest college associated with Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ to have closed in recent years. In 2022, Central Christian College of the Bible (Moberly, Mo.) merged with/absorbed St. Louis Christian College. Nebraska Christian College (Papillion, Neb.) closed after spring semester 2020. (NCC had merged with Hope International University of Fullerton, Calif., in 2016. HIU remains open.) And Cincinnati Christian University closed after the fall semester 2019.
Additionally, noninstrumental Church of Christ-affiliated Ohio Valley University closed at the end of 2021.
In late April, Christianity Today reported that 18 Christian colleges had closed since the start of COVID-19 in early 2020.