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Developing a Systems Approach to K through University Library Services

Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians

By Richard Osborn
Vice President for Education
North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists

24 June 1998
Columbia Union College

I. Historical Context

Seventh-day Adventist librarians are leading the way in helping higher education in the North American Division see the possibility of a new paradigm for collaboration between institutions that frequently compete rather than cooperate with each other. In order for us to see the significance of this development, let us review the historical context within the church and in the broader world of higher education.

Seventh-day Adventist higher education developed in the 19th century when business models stressed a division of labor at the same time that the 1901 General Conference Session approved a new structure called unions. In order to handle the growing needs for church employees as home field workers and missionaries, colleges rapidly developed in each union as part of the church’s division of labor. At a time when a small number of faculty with limited facilities could offer a quality education, this approach to education made sense as several of the church’s senior boarding academies were turned into colleges. Energized by the G. I. Bill in the late 1940s and early 1950s, enrollments dramatically increased. Solid amounts of disposable income, an increased tithe base, and a strong commitment by two generations who had gone through the Depression helped build numerous campus buildings through the 1960s. During the 1970s, leaders began to wonder if the church should take a greater role in higher education which resulted in the creation of the Board of Higher Education (BHE). Originally envisioned as a body which would have the central authority to approve or deny new program offerings and to coordinate higher education from a central body, the Board eventually became a means for sharing information and ideas with little power.

Conditions changed in the 1980s and 1990s as the Vietnam era children, also known as “baby boomers,” now became the new generation entrusted to care for the church’s mission and financial needs. Increasing numbers of middle class Caucasians and their children either began to leave the church in growing numbers or to give decreasing amounts of money to the church at the same time as their disposable income dramatically decreased from that of their parents and grandparents. Baptisms from new immigrants in lower economic classes began to become an increasingly important part of new accessions to the church. While membership increased 42% from 604,430 to 858,365 members between 1980 and 1996, tithe per capita only increased by 41.8% while the Consumer Price Index increased 75.1%.

The costs of operating a college also increased during these years, most of it being handled by large increases in tuition. In order to attract students, Adventist colleges along with their private college counterparts across America began the practice of tuition discounting in order to “buy” students. Studies completed by Dr. Dallas Kindopp in the North American Division Office of Education revealed that the biggest change in costs of Adventist colleges came from institutional funding of student scholarships and grants. Church subsidies continued to represent a significant “endowment” for each college/university, but became a decreasing percentage of the overall institutional budgets. For the 1996 school year, the unions and General Conference gave close to $40 million in subsidies to the 15 colleges/universities located in the North American Division which is the equivalent of a $500,000,000 (1/2 billion) endowment. Development officers along with their college presidents increasingly went to alternate financial and enrollment sources resulting in privatization as a potential threat to the church. While these trends took place, church members increasingly demanded highly qualified faculty, excellent facilities including fully equipped libraries similar to those found at public research universities, and state-of-the-art equipment including rapidly escalating costs for technology. Many members no longer showed the same dedication to having their children in Adventist higher education compared to earlier generations. With decreasing opportunities for church employment, many church members did not understand the changing role of Adventist higher education. (1)

Sensing the challenges of these trends, Adventist college presidents reported to a joint meeting of the division’s Board of Higher Education and Board of Education, K-12 on February 8, 1994 on six options for consideration: (2)

  1. Liquidation of Adventist Higher Education – sale of institutional assets and the development of a superfund to provide seminary education for the church’s pastoral ministry and endowments for Adventist student scholarships so that Adventist students can receive higher education at other public and private institutions of higher education.
  2. Consolidation or Reduction of the Number of Institutions – a smaller number of institutions could be more adequately funded if they had a larger number of students.
  3. Specialization – current colleges and universities could cooperatively choose to limit their programs and promote transfer of students to certain institutions for specific programs and majors.
  4. Centralization – one university system for the Division with regional campuses under the direction of one super administration and super board.
  5. Privatization – further reduction of church funds with increases of other funding from donors, industry and other private sources of funds.
  6. Informed Continuation – tough decision-making on programs, personnel, student-teacher ratios, diversification of funding, being fewer things to fewer people, operation with a strong sense of cost containment not tied to revenue availability, utilization of cutting-edge technologies, and maximum efficiency.

The consensus of the two education boards centered around agreement that informed continuation represented the best option.

II. Today’s Challenge

The 1990s witnessed remarkable progress for higher education. During the 1997-98 school year, Adventist colleges/universities reached the highest enrollment in the history of the North American Division finally surpassing totals only reached in 1980. Four institutions achieved their highest enrollment ever-Andrews University, Loma Linda University, Oakwood College, and Southwestern Adventist University. Two colleges became universities-Southern Adventist University and Southwestern Adventist University. Another college changed its name to more accurately reflect its degree-granting status-Canadian University College. A new college came into existence-Florida Hospital College for Health Sciences.

Amidst these success stories come possible challenges. Several colleges are close to bankruptcy. Given the small amount of endowments and cash reserves on all Adventist campuses, even the most successful colleges would be severely challenged by one or two years of poor enrollments, by a downturn in the economy, by a decline in church subsidies, or by a changed structure of government-funded student loans. Administrators and teachers are overworked and underpaid. Many departments are so understaffed and under equipped that the quality of some programs is being questioned by constituents and accrediting bodies. Budgets for libraries have not kept pace with inflation or with the escalating costs of books, periodicals, and the technology to handle new learning needs. Tuition discounting continues to represent a serious challenge to many budgets. Recruitment for students sometimes bordering on the unethical proceeds.

Questions continue to be raised about the role of higher education in Adventism. With strapped church budgets at the General Conference, division, union, conference, and local church level, some wonder how long the current level of subsidies can continue. Many lay people ask if a division with around 900,000 members can really support 15 quality colleges/universities. For them the question is not if a college will close but when. Yet others worry about the impact on the church’s continued growth without higher educational institutions located in the nine geographical areas of the division. Once students leave an area to attend college in another region they rarely return to their home regions hurting the ability of the church to grow.

Governance issues have also been clarified. At the 1992 North American Division Year-End Meeting, the following voted action formally curtailed the authority of the BHE by recognizing the power of each individual board:

Inasmuch as the colleges and universities within the North American Division, working cooperatively, constitute the higher educational arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America dedicated to fulfilling the gospel commission, and the North American Division affirms that the Board of Trustees of each college or university is the governing authority for that institution in accordance with its articles of incorporation and bylaws:

The governing boards of the Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities in the North American Division will use the North American Division remuneration scale for determining salary levels; will review the needs and challenges unique to each institution; and will provide within institutional budgetary limitations appropriate benefit/compensation packages in areas such as housing, faculty development, and assigned responsibilities.

In 1995 a Higher Education Cabinet was created by the division to replace the BHE which recognized the reality that a “top down” centralized body for higher education in North America would not work.

III. Is Seventh-day Adventist Higher Education Unique in Its Challenges?

The broader higher education field in North America experiences the same challenges as illustrated in two significant reports released in 1997.

A. Breaking the Social Contract

The Commission on National Investment in Higher Education established by the Council for Aid to Education (an independent subsidiary of RAND) made the following dramatic prediction in Breaking the Social Contract. The Fiscal Crisis in Higher Education:

In our view, the enormous deficits facing the higher education sector in the near future are more critical than the much publicized crisis in the Social Security system. Indeed, unless America manages to open up the narrowing bottleneck of higher education, there will not be enough economic growth to support any version of the Social Security plans being discussed. (3)

Predicting quadruple operating deficits by 2015 for the nation’s colleges and universities, the Commission expressed a concern that millions of Americans would no longer be able to attend college “at a time when the level of education needed for productive employment is increasing.” (4)

Recommendations made by the Commission to address this problem include reallocation of public resources, major structural changes in the governance system of higher education, greater mission differentiation, and a redefinition of appropriate levels of education for American workers. However, of greatest potential interest to Adventist leaders should be the following recommendation:

Colleges and universities should develop sharing arrangements to improve productivity.

Five specific areas are recommended in which these sharing arrangements should take place:

  • Alignment. Seamless alignment of undergraduate requirements, transfer requirements, and joint teaching and degree-producing arrangements between community colleges, state undergraduate universities, and pubic research universities is now technically feasible and should be achieved over the next decade. Given the benefits of the new educational technologies afforded by the Internet, it is time for inter-segmental alignment of undergraduate instruction to be encouraged by policymakers inside and outside higher education. Achievement of this goal alone would substantially increase undergraduate participation rates.
  • Classes. Every college and university teaches micro-economics at the freshman level; virtually every research university offers several introductory statistics courses. Departments and universities should collaborate to pool introductory courses and instructors as a way to save resources and provide the best instruction available in the subject. Use of the Internet may facilitate this task.
  • Services. Joint outsourcing of functions ranging from physical plant maintenance, electric power, health care, and police protection to joint purchasing of instructional and research equipment and supplies should be encouraged.
  • Infrastructure. Free-standing, separate physical plants-and, if they are public institutions, the system of administrations that govern them-are currently an unquestioned requirement. In the coming cyberspace age, physical space will assume less importance. Combining all or parts of physical plants of, say, state undergraduate universities and community colleges that serve the same geographical area could save considerable resources.
  • Libraries. Substantial savings and improved library services can be obtained by focusing on the software needed to place library resources on the Internet rather than continuing to support individual research library collections. (5)

B. AGB Report on Strategic Response to Financial Challenges

Arthur Hauptman in a report prepared for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges titled, Five Strategic Responses to the Financial Challenges Facing Colleges and Universities, defines a strategic response as “a decision controlled by institutional officials that

  • requires changing an existing major policy, program, or practice of the institution and
  • involves some degree of risk. (6)

Hauptman identifies five strategic responses to the serious financial problems facing American higher education including the need to attract additional revenues; reassessment of financial aid policies; cost reduction, quality improvement, and restructuring; and expanded use of technology. However, significant for Adventist higher education is his fifth strategic response:

Optimize resource sharing by forming alliances and cooperating with other institutions. (7)

The report suggests that “competition, after all, is the American way.” Admittedly much of the success in American education has come from a tradition of competition for getting better students, for attracting the best faculty, and for building better buildings-“but in far too many cases, the urge of institutions to compete has become excessive...” An example of excess competition occurs

when an institution seeks to become all things to all people. An institution may offer programs and degrees in too many disciplines, for instance, or it may subscribe to an inordinate number of academic journals for the library. Such examples indicate an underlying problem: Some institutions aspire to a single model of excellence-the research university-rather than to success within a more appropriate niche.

If proactive steps are not taken, the author warns that higher education may be forced to undergo similar trauma to what health care has experienced with a move to managed-care. Dr. Lyn Behrens, President of Loma Linda University, suggests that the current focus of health care on affordability, accessibility, and quality as measured by outcomes and client satisfaction may have implications for Adventist higher education if coupled with the value added component many parents and students seek today.

The report argues for another approach–“. . . it is increasingly evident that in some cases collaboration may be a better strategy, especially given resource constraints.” Collaboration and cooperation “allows institutions to conserve resources, to be more selective in what they do, and to take advantage of the strengths of other institutions.” Examples of possible collaborative efforts include:

  • library exchanges
  • joint academic programs and/or administrative procedures
  • shared tuition
  • tuition remission
  • alliances between institutions to benefit from emerging technologies in classrooms, libraries, and administrative offices
  • joint majors or academic programs
  • study-abroad programs sharing facilities
  • partnerships with local school districts to share faculty or facilities.

In regard to collaborative efforts, the report raises the following questions which college/university boards should consider on the subject of collaboration:

  • Has our institution formed partnerships aimed specifically at containing costs or sharing resources? Would we benefit from doing so?
  • Are there ways collaborative efforts can enhance, and not detract from, our ability to compete?

C. Question

If Adventist higher education is experiencing similar financial challenges, what can we learn from the solutions offered in these two significant 1997 reports that might be of benefit?

IV. Collaboration for Adventist Higher Education

A. Adventist Trends

The trends in Adventist higher education seen for at least two decades demand that we reconsider two approaches currently underway. Capitalism involves proliferating majors and programs to attract more students, hopefully from new markets, but frequently from each other. Some argue that this kind of competition is good because a better quality education takes place and results in students having more choices. However, this approach can also lead to a form of Darwinianism in which a “survival of the fittest” mode prevails. You might argue that since central system management does not work, let these two theories work themselves out.

Competition in Adventist higher education has resulted in some of the same positive gains mentioned earlier in the AGB report. We would not argue for The Death of Competition as suggested in a recent national bestseller. (8) A more appropriate approach might be that of co-opetition as suggested by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff in their book by the same title. (9) This new mind set combines competition and cooperation. Cooperation will result in “creating a bigger business ‘pie,’ while competing to divide it up.” How can we accomplish such cooperation? Robert Hargrove’s 1998 book, Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration, might provide a useful guide. (10)

Another approach from the business world which merits our consideration is systems thinking as promoted by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline

Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots.’ . . . All are concerned with a shift of mind from seeing parts to wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future. (11)

Using systems thinking, we begin to think of problems in a more holistic sense rather than just blaming what appear to be the symptoms. In other words, if our children are leaving the church in large numbers, we don’t just focus on education as the cause but begin to look at the systems of family, congregation, and education to determine possible reasons for these departures. Similarly, if higher education is facing enrollment and financial challenges, we look at the broader systems to find solutions. As you have heard from national reports, librarians are increasingly being looked to as one of the major areas of providing systems solutions.

B. Shared Assumptions about Collaboration

Creative collaboration in Adventist higher education must revolve around several shared assumptions. We should not be working toward collaboration in order to be “politically correct”-just to say that we did it. These assumptions should include:

  1. Collaboration should be fostered, initiated, and implemented by the Seventh-day Adventist colleges/universities located in North America rather than from a centralized North American Division Office of Education. The division can provide coordination, staff help, administrative support, limited resources for study purposes, analyses, and recommendations through the NAD Higher Education Cabinet. However, the initiative should recognize that autonomous colleges/universities working through their boards, administration, faculty, and staff should want creative collaboration to occur because it makes good sense on an educational, church mission, and business level rather than from a position of being forced upon them.
  2. In order for study and implementation, collaboration should result in the following:
    1. Cost savings
    2. Improved quality
    3. More students
    4. Diversity.

If Adventist librarians are to expand their collaborative efforts even beyond what is being suggested in this paper, they must meet one or more of these criteria.

C. Collaboration Levels

Collaboration for Adventist colleges/universities can take place on several levels:

  1. Division-wide Adventist Collaborations Within Higher Education – Some collaborative efforts can be developed which involve all or most of the Adventist colleges/universities located in North America. These initiatives would develop on a shared basis through joint proposals from several administrative, academic, and support area groups. Through mutual agreements negotiated through the North American Division Higher Education Cabinet growing out of the history of the Board of Higher Education, some institutions might agree not to add programs or even to close programs to strengthen the overall collaborative effort. A very positive collaboration is the effort to develop the Adventist Library Information Cooperative (ALICE) by the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians. Efforts for fostering diversity could be developed.
  2. Regional Adventist Collaborations Within Higher Education – Higher educational institutions within the same regional areas could develop initiatives such as the West Coast Consortium; sharing arrangements between Oakwood College and Southern Adventist University; and cooperative efforts between La Sierra University and Pacific Union College.
  3. Mutual Interest Adventist Collaborations Within Higher Education – Institutions with shared mutual interests develop collaborations such as Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences and Kettering College of Medical Arts; Atlantic Union College and Loma Linda University with the delivery of distance education; and Union College’s NCATE collaboration with Canadian University College.
  4. Other Adventist Collaborations – Collaboration with Adventist health care institutions, ASI, the division, union, conference, and congregations represent potential arenas for cooperation.
  5. In-College/University Collaborations – Within each college/university, collaboration takes place between departments and services.
  6. Non-Adventist Higher Education Collaborations – Some students would like to take classes or a major not offered by an Adventist college but still take advantage of being in an Adventist campus setting. Such collaborative arrangements can be negotiated between institutions. Union College’s “Best of Both Worlds” program is an example.
  7. Private Business Collaborations – Outsourcing for custodial, grounds, dormitories, and food service have become more common. Collaborations with technology companies could become beneficial. (12)
  8. Private College/University Collaborations Within a State or Regional Level – Some Adventist institutions benefit by joining college/university consortiums on a state or regional level which result in savings through pooled purchasing of supplies and even insurance.
    secondary school libraries will be connected into the Adventist college library consortium.
    We would like to begin dialogue with this Association to determine how we might achieve this important goal.

    In this context, one week ago we inaugurated Adventist Education Net, the division Office of Education web site with its address:

    On this web page we have a section for defining how this and other information technology goals can be achieved. We solicit your advice. We also have a section of “net links” where we link to other web sites which could include the librarian’s consortium.

V. Course of Action

The six options developed by the BHE in 1994 outlined earlier in this paper constitute the “big idea” possibilities. This paper is suggesting that we need to become more pragmatic and take smaller steps that might be more effective and more easily implemented.

The North American Division Higher Education Cabinet at its February, 1998 meeting voted to appoint a North American Division Commission for Collaboration in Adventist Higher Education to serve as a steering group to oversee the following responsibilities:

  1. Develop a list of all collaborative efforts taking place within Seventh-day Adventist colleges/universities located within North America to serve as a resource.
  2. Research the theories underlying collaboration in the business world and higher education with potential implications for an Adventist setting.
  3. Analyze collaborative efforts being made in higher education with possible implications for the Adventist setting.
  4. Ask existing committees or appoint new committees to undertake a study of potential collaborations such as but not limited to the following:
    1. Seventh-day Adventist College/University Business Officers (SDACUBO) to study joint purchasing, centralized accounting and payroll services, a division-wide food service and custodial contract, pooled endowment funds, centralized computer center, mutually shared financial aid office, and national book store contract. They may need to appoint a smaller subcommittee to study such ideas in more depth. (These brainstorming ideas were developed on 25 August 1996 at a meeting of the SDACUBO.)
    2. Academic Deans – Possible collaborations should be investigated in such areas as shared majors, joint professorial appointments, distance education, and graduation requirements. Dr. Karen Graham, newly appointed Dean of the School of Education at Andrews University, suggested the possibility of having one education department for the entire division which would allow each college to run its own program but share teachers with special expertise across the division. With the proliferation of master’s degrees in education, we could end up with generalists rather than a variety of specialists when departments are larger.
    3. Recruiters – Rather than focusing so intensely on competition, encourage recruiters to develop collaborative approaches of marketing and recruiting which will enable them to be cooperative and competitive. The possible use of technology to assist in giving students information could be studied on a collaborative basis. The division’s Vice President for Education will be meeting with the recruiters this summer to begin discussing these issues. A key issue is how crucial geography and union territorialism should be in this process. Recruitment efforts in three major arenas should be considered:
      1. Students attending Seventh-day Adventist academies;
      2. Seventh-day Adventist students attending non-Adventist K-12 schools or non-Adventist colleges;
      3. Non-Adventist students interested in the value added features of a Christian college.
    4. Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians – Continue to encourage the development and expansion of ALICE.
    5. Other Adventist Professional Associations – Several Adventist professional associations exist in history, English, home economics, physical education, and student services. Have these various groups study possible collaborations.
    6. Adventist Theological Education – Currently a committee chaired by Al McClure is already considering this topic which will involve a major collaborative effort among Adventist colleges/universities offering ministerial training at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  5. Study the possible need for models of collaboration with branch campuses of an Adventist university should one of the smaller colleges face closing. Carrying out such a study proactively might be of benefit.
  6. Develop collaborative approaches to serving students studying at non-Adventist colleges.
  7. Make recommendations to individual institutions or when needed to the NAD Higher Education Cabinet for possible implementation.

The committee would meet for a 2-year period beginning in the summer, 1998. To minimize costs, the committee can meet by conference call or video conferencing on occasion. While the committee might issue a report after two years, they should feel free to make recommendations on an on-going basis while they meet rather than waiting for one big report.

VI. Conclusion

The North American Division thanks the Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians for the modeling you are doing in developing a collaborative, systems approach to library services. We would encourage you to continue those efforts and reach out to our K-12 program to make this a true systems approach. We are open to your suggestions on how we can be of service to you in improving our system of education.


1) Many of these trends were identified in a Board of Higher Education Task Force Report by D. Malcolm Maxwell and Fred Veltman, “Environmental Scan/Church Trends,” February, 1994.

2) From Minutes, Joint Meeting of the Board of Higher Education and Board of Education, K-12, 8 February, 1994, Loma Linda, California. Also reported by Myron Widmer, “Brainstorming the Future for Adventist Colleges and Universities,” Adventist Review, 14 April 1994, pp. 15-17.

3) Commission on National Investment in Education, Breaking the Social Contract. The Fiscal Crisis in Higher Education (Council for Aid to Education, 1997), p. 3.

4) Ibid., p. 1.

5) Ibid., pp. 21-2.

6) Arthur M. Hauptman, “Five Strategic Responses to the Financial Challenges Facing Colleges and Universities,” AGB Occasional Paper No. 33 (Washington, D. C.: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 1997), p. 5.

7) Ibid., pp. 14-5.

8) James F. Moore, The Death of Competition. Leadership & Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems (New York: HarperBusiness, 1997).

9) Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, Co-opetition (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1998.)

10) Robert Hargrove, Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration (New York: McGraw Hill, 1998).

11) Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline. The Art & Practice of the The Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday Currency, 1990), pp. 68-9.

12) Brandenburger and Nalebuff, Co-opetition, pp. 16-7 call those providing such services complementors.

Copyright © 1998, Richard Osborn

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