Trends in Adventist Education: Do We Need a New Strategy?

Speaker: Categories: Oct 11, 2008


September, 1948! Small town, northern Wisconsin, population 7500. An SDA church. A school board and board chairperson. A just-constructed one-room school house. School room furnishings - mostly used, restored, and refinished. Everything ready for the school year to begin in an environment where kindergartners through eighth-graders could be educatedWITHOUThaving to experience public school! Everything's ready - EXCEPT-- no teacher hired, no teacher on contract!

Learning about this plight - a brand new school just constructed so that the 5 year-old grandson of the school board's chair would NOT have to go to public kindergarten - the editor of this newsletter (Jim Kaatz) volunteered. After-all, he had completed a year of college - one semester pre-med, one ministerial. What more couldpossiblybe needed to teach K - 8 students in an SDA church school! Without going into detail, that volunteer found out - and, surprisingly, opted to make teaching his career.

This scenario probably illustrates the commitment Adventists have had for education - if nothing more than to have the SDA childrenAVOIDpublic education. Please note,avoidingmay have been preeminent over thequalityof the educational experience.

This episode was three-score years ago! In sixty years how far has Adventist education - its schools, its teachers, its students, its school boards, and its parents of these students - come?

Edward Reifsnyder, the October 11 presenter and a new voice at SDAF observes that many Adventists may be surprised to learn that K-12 enrollment in Adventist schools in the North American Division has beensteadily trending downwardsince the late 1970s. This trend is observed in both elementary and secondary levels. Such decline in enrollment has occurred in the face of growth in NAD membership during the same time period! Thus we can say thatmarket penetrationhas declined. SDA schools are attracting a smaller and smaller proportion of the school-age children in our midst. Conversely, more and more of our potential students are going elsewhere for their K-12 education. In the Texas Conference, for example, market penetration in 1980 was measured at one student for every eight members in the Conference. In 2005, that number had declined to one student for every 16 members!

This Subject, he continues, isnotoften discussedopenly. To talk about it is to be viewed as unsupportive of Adventist schools. Nearly universally, when Adventist education is presented in church publications or in oral presentations to the membership, the nature of the communication is laudatory and promotional in nature. While such types of communications are helpful, we should also be having an open and frank dialogue on the actual enrollment trend.

Such trends in Adventist education have significant strategic implications for and to the church, notes Mr. Reifsnyder. Spiritual development in our children, the future of our congregations, the feeder system for our colleges and universities, and declining school financial viability are among the risks and dynamics that may be anticipated from these downward enrollment trends.

The October 11 SDAF discussion will focus on these trends, their implications, and possible courses of remediation. The information shared is an outgrowth of an 18 month effort by a Task Force on Education for the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists that was chaired by the speaker.

What trends in enrollments may be observed in the school for which your local church provides a monthly financial subsidy?
How about enrollments throughout your local conference?


Edward Reifsnyder is president of The Reifsnyder Group, a Texas-based management consultancy to the health-care industry. The firm has an eclectic consulting practice, but focuses most often on client's strategic issues and new business opportunities. He also performs executive searches. Prior to forming The Reifsnyder Group, Mr. Reifsnyder was Chief Financial Officer of Adventist Health System/United States and Adventist Health System/Sunbelt.

Early in his career, Mr. Reifsnyder was an Adventist boarding academy treasurer and teacher. From late 2003 to the spring of 2005, he led an effort by the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to evaluate Adventist education in that Conference and recommend strategic directions.

Mr. Reifsnyder earned a master's degree in management from the Crummer School of Business and is a Certified Public Accountant. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Adventist University.

He was recommended as a presenter a by another Texas member, Vince Melashenko.

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