State of Institution Address

Fall 2013

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State of the Institution

November 2013

David H. Johnson, President


I have chosen as my theme for this short address something Rebekah Burch Basinger said to our Board about two years ago. “The essence of our work is mission fulfillment with economic vitality.” To solidify the theme in our minds let’s ask the following question, “How will we be a great institution for our grandchildren?”

How will we become a great institution? Our mission is about “Christ-Centred Higher Education and Ministry Training.” We help people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.

Christ-Centred higher education means that the curriculum is delivered by a Christ-Centred faculty. A Christ-centred faculty is one in which each member has a relationship with the living Jesus. Beyond that, I imagine there are as many ways of having this relationship as there are ways of negotiating a marriage. Every marriage I know is different. Some are calm, some are tempestuous. Some marriages are easy and some are a lot of hard work. Marriages change over time, too. The same can be said of each member of the Providence faculty and staff in their relationship with Jesus. So a Christ-Centred faculty is made up of individuals who are somehow and at some level engaged with the living Jesus. They attempt to follow him, walk with him, and serve him above all others. No two of our faculty members are alike in this relationship. But we all buy into to being Christ-Centred teachers.

Beyond the teachers, Christ-Centred education means that the curriculum itself is Christ-Centred. In this regard let me quote myself from an address last year,

A Christ-centred education means that all that we do finds its source and goal in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “All things were created by him and for him, he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” So we are not just trying to find a place for the Christian faith within our academic pursuits. We are not merely trying to relate our academic pursuits to our Christian faith. To be Christ-centred means that as we pursue our academic and educational endeavours, we understand that Jesus Christ is pre-eminent in everything—in music, in physical science, in social science, in humanities, in business, in sport, in counselling, in ministry. With the ancient church as it faced a decidedly pagan Roman empire, we declare that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.

But Christ-centred education means more than a Christ-Centred curriculum delivered by a Christ-centred faculty. Christ-Centred higher education is delivered in the context of a Christ-Centred community. At Providence, faculty, staff, Board, and students agree to live under a Covenant of Community Life. Let me read this Covenant which is posted in various places around the campus:

Understanding that Jesus Christ is sovereign over every aspect of corporate and individual life, that God’s will is revealed in Holy Scripture, that the Holy Spirit interprets such to the church and empowers it to live accordingly, and that everything we have comes from God, we do covenant:

To practice a vital and vibrant life of individual and corporate worship of the one true God;

To pursue moral excellence in every aspect of our life and relationships;

To steward our time, talent, treasure, body, and the environment to the glory of God;

To exemplify the gospel of grace by upholding the dignity of, showing respect to, and serving all people regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or culture;

To maintain a living and verbal witness to the grace of God;

To practice love, grace, truth, and generosity, and eschew offensive, manipulative, harmful, and deceptive behavior;

To sacrifice our own selves for the good of the community and for the sake of the gospel; and
When we sin, to forgive and be reconciled to one another and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

 

We are certainly not perfect people. But this is the ideal for which we strive.

But why is Christ-Centred higher education and ministry training necessary?

First, let me address the importance of undergraduate arts education in general. What the world needs above all else is people who think. Of course, people also need to learn to do, but first they need to think. Arts education, or as it is sometimes called, Liberal Arts, teaches people to think critically and creatively. The problems and possibilities of the world must be addressed by thinkers, no just doers.

Second, let me address the importance of undergraduate Christian arts education, the kind we offer at Providence. I believe there is a certain way of thinking called Christian. This kind of thinking takes into account the existence of the Creator. It takes into account the nature of humanity. It takes into account the need for humanity to be redeemed in body, mind, and spirit. It takes into account the divine interpretation of history, what has happened, where we are today, and where we are going. Christ-centered higher education must be a reasoned, respectable, and responsible voice in the public square.

Third, let me address the importance of Christ-centred ministry training. I would oppose this to human-centred ministry training. Christ-centred ministry training, the kind we do in the seminary, sees the final goal of ministry as the glory of God. Certainly we want to help people live satisfying lives. But we believe that true satisfaction will come to people, and to groups of people like the church, only when they are aligned with God’s will which is God’s own glory, not ours.

Christ-centred education is necessary because it teaches people to be salt and light for Christ in society. Joel Henson is a good example. He is an alumnus of our Aviation program. He always wanted to be a commercial pilot, but God got a hold of him, and now he and his wife and their soon to be born baby are headed for the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Mission Aviation Fellowship. He will be flying a small plane to provide mission support and humanitarian aid in the jungles of Africa. I hear stories like this about our alumni every week. Joel’s story puts shoe leather on our mission. Providence is helping people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.

What are we doing to establish economic vitality? What are we doing to make Providence a great institution for our grandchildren?

Progress in 2012-2013

In terms of student life, we provided free residence rooms to enhance campus life for returning undergraduates. These students must be full time and must purchase the meal plan.

We instituted a merit-based scholarship program for new and returning students.

We have added a psychology major, which will take in a first group of students next fall.

We changed our varsity team name and logo to the Pilots. Our volleyball and soccer teams were highly competitive and participated in national championship tournaments.

We improved our infrastructure:

  • Air Conditioning was installed in Kindred Hall which enhances our summer programs
  • A new fire alarm system was installed in the Hanna Centre
  • We replaced the siding and windows in the fourplexes
  • We continue to renovate Bergen Hall
  • We Improved WiFi campus-wide
  • We replaced our phone system with a new internet-based system
  • We remodeled the chapel
  • We remodeled the Presidential office suite

Our Current Situation

Financial Support

We have five sources of revenue:

1)      Tuition and fees

2)      Auxiliaries (rentals, residence, board, etc.)

3)      Annual Government grant

4)      Donations

5)      Legacy Giving

 

Last year we came to the point where investments from the Board and major donors amounted to what we need to supplement our revenue from tuition, auxiliaries, and government funding to meet our operational budget. In order for Providence to advance, we need to increase donor investments for four things:

1)      to continue to make it possible for deserving students to come to Providence through scholarships and bursaries,

2)      to recover from the financial deficit that has accumulated since the financial downturn which began in 2008. We have another deficit budget for this year but after that we will balance and begin to create surpluses.

3)      to meeting our deferred maintenance needs, and

4)      to advance programs in performing arts, athletics, and academics.

Last year we received a total of $1.7M in donations. We have only realized this amount in the past when we have had a large capital campaign in process.

Enrollment

Just like most small to medium-sized schools, Providence is an enrollment-driven institution.

Since the mid-1980s Seminary enrollment has generally fluctuated between 180 and 220 students. Lately the counselling program in Calgary has grown as has enrollment in online programs. These increases are paired with a decline in students at the Otterburne campus. The largest decline has been in the Master of Divinity program, which is the program preparing people for pastoral ministry.

Providence University College experienced steady growth from the time it moved to Otterburne in 1970 until 2003. At that point there was a downward turn in enrollment. Our experience paralleled most Christian universities and colleges. Since 2003 we ran in the energy of the good times, each year cutting the budget anticipating a return to a period of enrollment growth. It did not happen. Lately we have come to realize that without some sort of intervention, the downward trend will continue. The intervention has worked, at least last year and this. Rather than cut the budget again, the Board allowed us to have a deficit budget for three years. Of course, deficits eventually create cash shortfalls which we have experienced. The intervention consisted of three actions. First, the addition of university to our name has communicated what sort of college education we offer. Second, we established merit- based scholarships in the University College. This not only increased enrollment, it also brought us top flight students. Third, we have aggressively moved to marketing in social media sites like Facebook and we have continued to develop our websites.

Last year the university college enrollment increased by 12%. New students increased by 25% and we had a stellar year for retention. In spite of a relatively large graduating class last spring, this fall undergraduate enrollment is up by about 3%. This reflects an average retention rate and a 7% increase in new students.

Overall, 617 people took classes last year at Providence compared to 569 in the previous year.

Immediate Plans for the future

  • We have taken steps to enhance the student experience. In the Student Development Department we have added a new position for activity programing. For the first time, the Seminary began this year with an off campus retreat.

  • We continue to grow the Providence Legacy Fund, an endowment fund that will provide a steady and stable source of funding in the future. We currently have about a million dollars in our endowment and thirteen estates in our estate registry.

  • We are developing a new BA in Community Development and we have established a one-year discipleship program.

  • We have begun to implement a plan to fill out our undergraduate curriculum by adding courses in the hard sciences like biology and chemistry. 

  • Our athletic program continues to make great progress and will begin to focus more on Canadian competition. Nearly 25% of our undergraduate students are involved in varsity athletics.

  • Our Performing Arts programs continue to evolve with a broader range of offerings and a more diverse faculty. This year for the first time our choir is traveling to Brazil to minister in churches there.

  • The Seminary is restructuring its Master of Divinity program to make pastoral leadership training more accessible to students. We will also introduce a scholarship program for Master of Divinity students in the fall of 2013. The Seminary Counselling program is flourishing. We want to bolster the Master of Divinity to provide well training pastors for the church.

  • We are remodeling the kitchens in Providence House and resurfacing the main parking lot.

  • All these things will necessitate physical improvements, better infrastructure, and more personnel. We want to become a university and seminary of choice for Canadians and international students.

Conclusion

So what does the future hold? What will Providence look like for our grandchildren? That’s a tough question to answer. We want it to be a great institution for them. We want Providence to thrive. We want Providence to provide an enviable education that impacts the world for Christ. In the immediate we are taking the aforementioned steps toward this lofty goal.

At the same time we will continue to hold to the truth of the gospel. I think it is significant that the Board has once again chosen a theologian as President. Not that others would not hold to this truth. But the choice of an evangelical theologian signals to all of us that Providence is committed to maintaining its 88 year-old tradition of upholding and holding forth the truth that was delivered to the church through the prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture. In the process of helping students grow in knowledge and character, we will pass on the apostolic tradition to the next generation. The Scriptures will continue to hold a privileged place in the life and curriculum of Providence.

At the end of the day we come back to the question of why. Why do we help people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service? Why Christian Higher Education and Ministry Training?

First, we do what we do in order to strengthen the church. Our graduates take many positions of leadership in churches. In Manitoba alone, 180 of our graduates are employed by churches. This is not to mention all the graduates who serve in lay capacities on church boards, in Sunday School classes, and in community outreach.

Second, we do what we do in order to build better communities. In his widely read book, To Change the World, James Davison Hunter discusses ways Christians have defined cultural change and ways they have gone about the task of changing the world.

So how do Christians change the world? Hunter says Christians change the world as they do the work of leading organizations and institutions and networks. How do they lead these organizations? Hunter calls for a leadership of “faithful presence,” that is leaders who humbly embody the presence of God, using their influence in godly ways to accomplish godlike ends.

This is the very thing we do at Providence. We help people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service. We instill the values of humility, service, and compassion so that students go forth to lead organizations, institutions, and networks toward a better world, a world under the dominion of our God.

 
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