The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all educational institutions globally into a state of crisis, according to education leaders. Yet, in the history of Adventist education, particularly at the tertiary level, crisis and the threat of closure are not new, said Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, education director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a recent presentation.
Beardsley-Hardy spoke on the topic “Adventist Education in a Time of Crisis” during the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) Colloquium, held online on August 17 and 18, 2020. On day two of the event, she gave an overview of the crisis in Adventist education and how the system has survived and, in some cases, thrived in difficult times. Beardsley-Hardy related, as an example, how the successes and failures of Battle Creek College led to the existence of Loma Linda University, Atlantic Union College, and Andrews University.
She pointed out that Battle Creek College, although run by Seventh-day Adventists, started as a secular school lacking Bible study courses in the curriculum. As the church progressed and the prophetic advice of Ellen G. White — a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church — was considered, Bible study became part of the institution’s curriculum. As tertiary education in Adventism was going through its teething stage, conflicts between secular-minded and mission-minded Adventist educators grew, she said.
The world church’s education director argued that while some Adventist educators were focused on increasing student numbers, societal popularity, and financial profitability for Adventist institutions, others agreed with White that the church’s educational curriculum must be centered on the principles of the Bible and must involve Bible study. Additionally, the Adventist Church decided that training in Bible studies must be taught by Adventist educators who were trained specifically in Adventist theology.
For more than 100 years, Beardsley-Hardy recounted, NCU has been facing the danger of closure, the threat of losing its spiritual integrity, and the danger of losing its Seventh-day Adventist identity. Like Battle Creek College, during its formative years, NCU, originally called West Indies Training School, was closed for a period of time before it was reborn. Unlike Battle Creek College, which permanently closed, NCU has begun its second century of operation. Its current location is in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica.
The threats of yesteryear are the same today, Beardsley-Hardy said — the déjà vu of spiritual integrity, denominational identity, financial sustainability, institutional recognition, respect in society, and the need to retain current students and attract prospective ones.
“We face those same challenges, too, to increase enrollment numbers. We need those numbers because our budget is based on tuition income.… But one of the things we need to do is to throw out the old cargo,” Beardsley-Hardy said in reference to outdated methods of instruction and ministry. “[The crisis triggered by] COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to do that.”