Author Topic: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year  (Read 50366 times)

Richard Johnson

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #15 on: February 11, 2020, 12:52:14 PM »
There are people over on the ELCA clergy Facebook page arguing that Concordia Portland's problems stem from its inhospitality to LGBTQ students.

I'm not kidding.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Matt Staneck

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #16 on: February 11, 2020, 12:55:27 PM »
There are people over on the ELCA clergy Facebook page arguing that Concordia Portland's problems stem from its inhospitality to LGBTQ students.

I'm not kidding.

There are folks on LCMS clergy pages saying CUP's *embrace* of LGBTQ is reason #1 for their downfall.

We all deserve each other far more than any of us care to admit.

M. Staneck
Matt Staneck, Pastor
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Queens, NY

Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #17 on: February 11, 2020, 12:56:59 PM »
I guess this kind of takes the air out of the closing-Selma-was-racist balloon. 
« Last Edit: February 11, 2020, 12:59:34 PM by Steven W Bohler »

Dave Benke

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #18 on: February 11, 2020, 01:10:20 PM »
I guess this kind of takes the air out of the closing-Selma-was-racist balloon.

because Selma's the same as Portland?  I don't get it.

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Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #19 on: February 11, 2020, 02:56:54 PM »
I guess this kind of takes the air out of the closing-Selma-was-racist balloon.

because Selma's the same as Portland?  I don't get it.

Dave Benke

Because the reasons for closing Selma and Portland are the same: a failing institution.  Finances, enrollment, lack of future hope.  But, when Selma was closed, all that some saw was racism because its student body was largely black.  Now we see the synod making the same determination in a school that is mostly white.  The synod cannot afford either school; it had nothing to do with race. 

RevG

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #20 on: February 11, 2020, 02:59:32 PM »
I was a bit caught off-guard by this because I was under the impression that Concordia-Portland was fairly strong due to the growth of its online programs, but I also know that institutions have to be very careful in regards to what they share about their circumstances.  Though, I do remember their having had issues with the U.S. Department of Education over a company they partnered with to grow their said programs.  Turns out that they never recovered from the dip in enrollment that that issue may have caused along with other factors.  From what I understand the big problem for small private liberal arts colleges is that a good portion of their operating budgets (upwards of 90%) come from tuition revenue.  If a college takes a hit in enrollment or its administration makes decisions that turn out to be unsuccessful recovery will be incredibly challenging; they may not be able to get out of the hole even if enrollment increases in the coming year(s).  Our Concordias have a lending agency to rely upon (LCEF) that other colleges may not have, but there is a tipping point in which the risks end up being too big. 

Peace,
Scott+

I agree with your assessment, Scott. 

My question has to do with the past several years in the transition and process of leadership selection following the retirement of the past president and the (non)selection of a new president.  There had to be a ramp-up time-frame for the board and national leadership in the months prior to the last president leaving.  If there are gaps in funding or changes in program, all the more reason to expedite the selection process.  This one, from my recollection of the timing, seems to have stopped and gone to extended interim at some point.  That could be either due to board concerns or to what we call in the Missouri Synod the Prior Approval Panel Process. 

I don't know what if any board concerns there were as they assembled their list of candidates or as they determined to hold things up.  However, I've been through a stopped Prior Approval Panel Process at one of our beloved synodical colleges, and know that it can present a significant bump/chasm in the road for the board of regents in exercising their regency.

Of course, there's no going back, but in order for this closure to provide a "teaching moment," there should be sufficient transparency in what happened that other colleges, and even the seminary, can learn from them.

Dave Benke

I found this article to be helpful:https://www.oregonlive.com/education/2020/02/portlands-concordia-university-will-close-at-end-of-spring-semester.html.  It highlights some of the issues I mentioned.  I looked up when President Schlimpert retired (2018) which was a couple of years after they started having serious financial issues (2015).  Though, I'm not all that familiar how the presidential search would work in such a circumstance, I would think that would put a damper on the process. What say you?

The northeast is also facing similar issues of enrollment because of demographic changes.

To begin, I don't have enough data to make an informed comment, so I'm just making a best guess based on instinct.

So we start with
a problem - decreased financials and enrollment

Then we have a retirement of a longtime leader

At that point, there are several basic tracks:
1) interim with belt-tightening
2) fast-track new leader selection going for
a) trusted leader
b) leader unafraid to make tough decisions
c) leader who brings both a financial accountability team and a fresh start team
3) wait and see - interim as interim not much happens.

I would pick #2 if I were interested in taking the best shot at keeping it going.  Even then I'd make sure people were aware that the new leader was on a tightrope.  So you'd have to pick someone who could walk the tightrope.

The Prior Approval Process is a sticky wicket if choice #2 is the one that the board wants to go with, because it takes time and can eliminate candidates.

Beyond the PAP, there's this - the major announcement in and around the last synodical convention was that the "historical college debt" had been eliminated by a property sale overseas.  So there is no more historical college debt.  Cool.  Does that not give greater flexibility of approach to institutions that are below the water line?  Apparently the answer is No.  Because the same question could have been asked surrounding the closing of Selma - if you're gaining $15-20 million, is there no way to support the struggling schools?  The answer times two to date is No.

I don't know what happened or when it happened, am blessedly out of that loop, but would simply ask those kinds of questions.

Because at the bottom of the day, all these smallish institutions without a big foundation behind them are on notice.  As you indicate, the demographics are daunting. 

This goes to the downturn in numbers of Lutheran kids in our schools and the downturn in the seminaries' enrollments over the years (with the exception in the seminaries of the SMP/Alternate Route student bodies).  In that instance, I don't see a problem with prioritizing getting "traditional" student enrollment up as a goal.  But realize it's a higher hill than you think because except for the clergy coming through the "family business" route (grandpa, dad, our uncles and cousins are pastors - it's what we do - a small but somewhat dependable group for recruitment), there are way less young men from among us who are available or who have interest in this vocation.  So I would specifically NOT advise throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and downsizing/downgrading the SMP and Alternate Route programs to serve traditional students only.  That's begging for trouble, in my opinion.

Dave Benke

My only thought with Selma is that based on the info available it was a money pit.  Incredibly low graduation rate, locationally limited, deferred maintenance, etc..  With Concordia Portland, like Selma, it seems that with the debt accrued there was no way out.  Certainly, money could be dumped in to sustain for the present moment but then what about a year from now?  In the big picture both institutions would have no problem eating through 20 million, but what then? 

In another way, what I am trying to wrap my mind around is how it gets to this point.  Certainly, demographics are a challenge, but budgets can be adjusted.  Thatís what I would really like to see in order to make sense of things; projected budgets and actuals.  I never feel like I am working with all of the information.  Was it really this bad or was it a series of really bad decisions that led to where we are?

Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #21 on: February 11, 2020, 03:02:18 PM »
This article was linked over on the discussion of this topic over at LutherQuest: https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2016/10/concordia_gained_thousands_of_new_students_--_and_a_federal_inquiry.html



D. Engebretson

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #22 on: February 11, 2020, 03:17:22 PM »
"The institutions of the Concordia University System, the national higher education network of The Lutheran ChurchóMissouri Synod, extend together our collective support for the students, faculty, staff, and administration of our sister campus in Portland, Oregon, which announced today its intention to cease operations at the close of this spring semester. 

Although the institutions of the Concordia University System operate independently, we walk together in mission. We resolve to help Portland students, who have unexpectedly found themselves in a very difficult situation. We are committed to offering pathways that enable our fellow Concordians to find their way to a new Concordia home. Our primary aim in the wake of this announcement is to care for displaced students and faculty and to smooth their transitions. 

The loss of the Portland campus reflects the seriousness of the challenges facing the nationís private institutions and strengthens the resolve of our campuses in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin to collectively provide the highest quality Lutheran educational choice for future generations of post-secondary learners

Across the nation and around the world, Concordia system schools educate more than 35,000 students and employ more than 4,000 faculty. Like never before, we are working as One Concordia to face the challenges in higher education.

We are strong and by Godís grace and goodness, remain steadfast in our mission to further Christís Kingdom."
                 ---Joint Statement from the Concordia University System presidents

https://blog.cuw.edu/a-statement-from-the-concordia-university-system-presidents-on-concordia-portland-closure/?fbclid=IwAR3QuTYU3SVJTR5CuVGz_YWC9O4BGge1HiJ6kAvTOCAOWJJbyICBfvnBqiU
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

Dave Benke

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #23 on: February 11, 2020, 03:20:52 PM »
"The institutions of the Concordia University System, the national higher education network of The Lutheran ChurchóMissouri Synod, extend together our collective support for the students, faculty, staff, and administration of our sister campus in Portland, Oregon, which announced today its intention to cease operations at the close of this spring semester. 

Although the institutions of the Concordia University System operate independently, we walk together in mission. We resolve to help Portland students, who have unexpectedly found themselves in a very difficult situation. We are committed to offering pathways that enable our fellow Concordians to find their way to a new Concordia home. Our primary aim in the wake of this announcement is to care for displaced students and faculty and to smooth their transitions. 

The loss of the Portland campus reflects the seriousness of the challenges facing the nationís private institutions and strengthens the resolve of our campuses in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin to collectively provide the highest quality Lutheran educational choice for future generations of post-secondary learners

Across the nation and around the world, Concordia system schools educate more than 35,000 students and employ more than 4,000 faculty. Like never before, we are working as One Concordia to face the challenges in higher education.

We are strong and by Godís grace and goodness, remain steadfast in our mission to further Christís Kingdom."
                 ---Joint Statement from the Concordia University System presidents

https://blog.cuw.edu/a-statement-from-the-concordia-university-system-presidents-on-concordia-portland-closure/?fbclid=IwAR3QuTYU3SVJTR5CuVGz_YWC9O4BGge1HiJ6kAvTOCAOWJJbyICBfvnBqiU

This is helpful, and coming directly from the CUS Presidents, it demonstrates unity of purpose.  Nice!

Dave Benke

Dave Likeness

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #24 on: February 11, 2020, 03:26:58 PM »
Concordia University Wisconsin has taken Concordia, Ann Arbor under her wings with
one President for both schools.  This arrangement has been in effect for at least 5 years.
This solution has increased the vitality of the Michigan campus for the future.  This is
a good example of how to make lemonade out of lemons.

Steven W Bohler

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #25 on: February 11, 2020, 03:43:31 PM »
"The institutions of the Concordia University System, the national higher education network of The Lutheran ChurchóMissouri Synod, extend together our collective support for the students, faculty, staff, and administration of our sister campus in Portland, Oregon, which announced today its intention to cease operations at the close of this spring semester. 

Although the institutions of the Concordia University System operate independently, we walk together in mission. We resolve to help Portland students, who have unexpectedly found themselves in a very difficult situation. We are committed to offering pathways that enable our fellow Concordians to find their way to a new Concordia home. Our primary aim in the wake of this announcement is to care for displaced students and faculty and to smooth their transitions. 

The loss of the Portland campus reflects the seriousness of the challenges facing the nationís private institutions and strengthens the resolve of our campuses in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin to collectively provide the highest quality Lutheran educational choice for future generations of post-secondary learners

Across the nation and around the world, Concordia system schools educate more than 35,000 students and employ more than 4,000 faculty. Like never before, we are working as One Concordia to face the challenges in higher education.

We are strong and by Godís grace and goodness, remain steadfast in our mission to further Christís Kingdom."
                 ---Joint Statement from the Concordia University System presidents

https://blog.cuw.edu/a-statement-from-the-concordia-university-system-presidents-on-concordia-portland-closure/?fbclid=IwAR3QuTYU3SVJTR5CuVGz_YWC9O4BGge1HiJ6kAvTOCAOWJJbyICBfvnBqiU

What strikes me is the "educate more than 35,000 students and employ more than 4,000 faculty".  That's less than 9 students per faculty member.  Remember, that states "faculty" and not "staff" so I assume we need to add more employees under that heading (administrators, clerical, maintenance and cleaning, etc.).  Then there is the cost of physical plant.  That is just not sustainable. 

peter_speckhard

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #26 on: February 11, 2020, 04:00:16 PM »


In another way, what I am trying to wrap my mind around is how it gets to this point.  Certainly, demographics are a challenge, but budgets can be adjusted.  Thatís what I would really like to see in order to make sense of things; projected budgets and actuals.  I never feel like I am working with all of the information.  Was it really this bad or was it a series of really bad decisions that led to where we are?
I don't think it is an example of an institution in decline, but an institutional casualty of a larger church-culture in decline. As with the body of Christ analogy, the various parts get life from and give life to the other parts. Ill health manifests itself in all kinds of ways.

Last night we were discussing our so far unsuccessful (going by attendance at least) attempt to re-organize Sunday school away from the various age-segregated classrooms (which had been cratering in attendance for some time) toward something more multi-generational and interactive. Sadly, it hasn't helped the generally low participation rate. My point in that discussion was that if three year old never learn Jesus Love Me or This Little Gospel Light, and middle-schoolers still need a table of contents to look up a Bible verse, then teaching confirmation becomes that much harder, etc. All of the facets of what we do depend on the other facets of what we do.

At the same meeting I discovered from our principal that unfortunately we wouldn't be getting student teachers this year after having them the past few years with great success. We have a full staff nearly all of whom are synodically trained and called and active in the congregation, a nice facility, and a stable, diverse student body. It is a great place to student teach. But we won't betting a student teacher because there aren't enough candidates in the Concordia system to supply us with one. Sad. Not sure what to do about it, just sad. And likely it means that a generation from now it will be almost impossible for us to have a full staff of synodically trained teachers.

I keep coming back to military analogies, but the health of the campaign depends on the health of all the parts of the campaign. Training with equipment does no good. Equipment without training does no good. Supply lines, recruiters, code-breakers, medics, morale-boosters, etc.-- everything plays a role.

To me, it suggests that the LCMS, as with most denominational churches, is a product of the Reformation and Western Christendom that operates on a platform of certain institutional assumptions. It can adapt itself to conditions within that platform, but not to the collapse of that platform. When the faith becomes personalized and privatized and loses a sense of church as kingdom of grace/church militant, it eventually dissipates.   

Charles Austin

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #27 on: February 11, 2020, 04:26:51 PM »
ELCA colleges, that is, the colleges established by the predecessor church bodies, never existed solely to train church workers. They did that, of course, but it was never their primary mission. I believe that gave them an opportunity to expand, to attract a larger student body, and to be more competitive with other colleges. And by training more than just church workers, they were able to develop a significant number of wealthy alumni, with loyalty to their colleges.
Retired ELCA Pastor. Iowa native. Now in Minneapolis. One must always ponder both the value and the dangers of poking the bear. Aroused and stimulated, the bear usually shows its true self. Or it might leap to an extreme version of itself. You never know with bears.

RevG

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #28 on: February 11, 2020, 04:33:40 PM »


In another way, what I am trying to wrap my mind around is how it gets to this point.  Certainly, demographics are a challenge, but budgets can be adjusted.  Thatís what I would really like to see in order to make sense of things; projected budgets and actuals.  I never feel like I am working with all of the information.  Was it really this bad or was it a series of really bad decisions that led to where we are?
I don't think it is an example of an institution in decline, but an institutional casualty of a larger church-culture in decline. As with the body of Christ analogy, the various parts get life from and give life to the other parts. Ill health manifests itself in all kinds of ways.

Last night we were discussing our so far unsuccessful (going by attendance at least) attempt to re-organize Sunday school away from the various age-segregated classrooms (which had been cratering in attendance for some time) toward something more multi-generational and interactive. Sadly, it hasn't helped the generally low participation rate. My point in that discussion was that if three year old never learn Jesus Love Me or This Little Gospel Light, and middle-schoolers still need a table of contents to look up a Bible verse, then teaching confirmation becomes that much harder, etc. All of the facets of what we do depend on the other facets of what we do.

At the same meeting I discovered from our principal that unfortunately we wouldn't be getting student teachers this year after having them the past few years with great success. We have a full staff nearly all of whom are synodically trained and called and active in the congregation, a nice facility, and a stable, diverse student body. It is a great place to student teach. But we won't betting a student teacher because there aren't enough candidates in the Concordia system to supply us with one. Sad. Not sure what to do about it, just sad. And likely it means that a generation from now it will be almost impossible for us to have a full staff of synodically trained teachers.

I keep coming back to military analogies, but the health of the campaign depends on the health of all the parts of the campaign. Training with equipment does no good. Equipment without training does no good. Supply lines, recruiters, code-breakers, medics, morale-boosters, etc.-- everything plays a role.

To me, it suggests that the LCMS, as with most denominational churches, is a product of the Reformation and Western Christendom that operates on a platform of certain institutional assumptions. It can adapt itself to conditions within that platform, but not to the collapse of that platform. When the faith becomes personalized and privatized and loses a sense of church as kingdom of grace/church militant, it eventually dissipates.

Please don't misunderstand me as I am very much in agreement with you here.  I think that in many regards we are simply witnessing the end of an era as you note.  But I know from my own pastoral experience that one or two bad decisions can have a lasting impact on an institution like a Concordia.  An impact that 40 years ago could have been lessened because of the stronger institutional position of the church. 

Dave Benke

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Re: Concordia Portland is closing at the end of the academic year
« Reply #29 on: February 11, 2020, 04:46:29 PM »
To me, it suggests that the LCMS, as with most denominational churches, is a product of the Reformation and Western Christendom that operates on a platform of certain institutional assumptions. It can adapt itself to conditions within that platform, but not to the collapse of that platform. When the faith becomes personalized and privatized and loses a sense of church as kingdom of grace/church militant, it eventually dissipates.   

Bingo.  And in the general decline of the Lutheran parochial education system, which was the second largest in the country behind the Roman Catholics (also in steep decline) we have had plenty of warning for a couple of decades about what we see transpiring now.

I think Mark Brown used the term "decadence," which may (?) have been taken from a recent Ross Douthat column, but the decadent side of our denomination, as opposed to the ELCA, is that we have hewn to the principal that whatever we have done that was orthodox will continue as is because it is orthodox Lutheran.  Which is not a vision, but a fantasy.

And because of our institutional decadence, we think we have time. So we set up commissions to study.  No, we don't have time, two higher ed institutions down the hatch later, with badly languishing grade schools, less kids in the pre-school because there are simply less kids, and right on up the line.  We have not allowed our educational institutions to be the canaries in the coal mine for our benefit.  So they've died and are gone, school by school by school.  Or they're made up of 4 in K, 2 in 1, 3 in 2, 5 in 3, 4 in 4, for a total of 38 students where there were eight years ago 136 and 18 years ago 195.  How does that business model work?  It doesn't.

I shouldn't get wound up, because it has been my job to speak with and confront and hold the hand and pray with those those who live in that fantasy world for a long time.  I know all about the downside scenarios. 
We, like you, Peter, are trying to take a fresh tack on vision for the future at my own church, with a 73 year old pastor in the lead.  We do have some signs of hope, but you can't place them on 73 year old shoulders for long.  So we'll see what we see by God's grace as the neighborhood adds many people (lots of building going on) but loses the family connectivity that has held us together so well.

Dave Benke