May 14, 2008

1514 Church News--Adventist Distance Ed

Adventist University ‘Goes the distance’ With New Degree Partnerships
Griggs' MBA now available in Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Editorial Assistant, Adventist News Network
capAs fledgling free market countries capitalize on the global economy, English language degrees -- often available through partnerships with United States-based universities -- are indispensable for students with international business ambitions.

Such affiliations with public universities are a chance to offer top-notch degrees and introduce students to the service-based philosophy behind Christian education for Seventh-day Adventist-owned Griggs University, the organization's president said.

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]

Some 90 students at Hanoi-based Vietnam National University are enrolled in an English master's degree in business administration offered by Adventist-run Griggs University. Similar degree partnerships around the world give Griggs a chance to introduce students to Christian values and business ethics, the organization's president says. [Photo: Griggs University]

Six months ago, officials at Hanoi-based Vietnam National University told Griggs president Donald Sahly they'd chosen the Maryland-based correspondence university to supply an English master's degree in business administration alongside their Vietnamese program.

Griggs hurtled for the chance: "Boom -- within six months we had 90 students enrolled," Sahly said.

Formerly known as Home Study International, Griggs began offering college degrees by correspondence to international students without access to an Adventist campus in 1991. But with partnerships such as the one in Vietnam, students can study at a traditional campus and benefit from classroom interaction while still earning a distinctly Christian education from Griggs.

"I tell these students, 'Look, an education from Griggs is bigger than your GPA, your MBA or the BMW you drive afterward," Sahly said. "It's not about money or greed. It's about service."

Sahly received a call recently from education officials in Taipei, Taiwan interested in a similar partnership at the Chinese International Academy Institute, R.O.C. "They have the faculty and the facility. All they need is our MBA."

Meanwhile, affiliations with a college and a graduate studies institute in the United Arab Emirates -- one in Dubai and the other in Ajman -- have enrolled more than 150 BBA and 40 MBA students.

Sahly and his staff supply the curriculum and approve the contract teaching staff, which includes the head of a consulting company who spent six years on the New York Stock Exchange and an Australian lawyer and lecturer who freelances for three colleges in Hanoi. The host university provides classroom space and hires the approved professors.

Even though the teachers are not Adventists and Griggs' MBA classes aren't taught in a distinctly Christian environment, Sahly said the partnerships expose students to the philosophy that drives Christian education through Griggs curriculum and periodic lectures by Griggs staff. Sahly said the students learn to be motivated by service. "People who serve live longer, are happier and are more productive than those who are self-centered," he said.

For students "raised on evolution and atheism," he said such concepts stir questions. The students may not be signing up in droves for Bible classes, but every question they ask is a wedge to a new worldview, Sahly adds.

"Adventists have been tied to the concept that evangelism has to conclude with a baptism," he said. Traditional evangelism has its place, Sahly noted, but "being thrown out of a country for proselytizing does not help our witness very much. I think what we're doing here is simply representing our God and our church in a very positive, productive way."

Griggs typically charges $25,000 per 100-student affiliated program plus a $150 registration fee from each enrolled student -- less than the going degree affiliation rate. Because it's strictly a distance learning university, Griggs isn't saddled by the overhead that comes with campus upkeep and fulltime faculty. "If we were in this for the money, we'd be charging double or triple what we are," Sahly said.

During his visits to the host universities, Sahly has noticed capitalism-driven thirtysomethings whose job it is to propel their countries more fully into the free market are replacing older generations. "Our invitations to these places have a lot to do with how we can help open up these countries to the wider world -- economically, technologically and philosophically. That's where we fit in."

While Sahly doubts distance learning partnerships will outmode the church's campus-based education system, he said they make sense in countries where there are no Adventist universities. Even where there are church-run schools, Sahly encourages Adventist campuses to partner with their local public universities to offer Griggs' MBA degree.

"I've gone to our colleges in Hong Kong and Taiwan and I've said, 'Here's what's happening in Dubai and Vietnam. Why don't you go downtown, find some contract teachers and knock on some doors?' It's an opportunity to witness in a way we've never thought of before."