“The situation is quite critical; we’re not sure if we can open the doors in fall,” says Bethany College director of advancement Rick Guenther. The prairie Bible school has laid off staff and faculty and is working hard to make the 2014/2015 school year feasible.
In March 2014, the board approved a reduced budget in response to lower than expected student enrollment; however, by mid-April, projections were even lower, forcing leadership to evaluate whether they would sustain a viable school year.
“Because this situation developed quickly, we’re asking donors and partners to help us buy time for another year,” to allow Bethany and its partners to discern, listen and “rejig,” says Guenther.
“It could be Bible college as an institution needs to change,” says academic dean and instructor Gil Dueck. “However, we need to take structured steps to make sure our faith is passed on to the next generation.”
The impoverished immigrants who founded Bethany and schools like it in the 1930s had “a sense of responsibility for the educational component of their mission,” says Dueck. So today, “we have a duty before God to bring up our kids in the faith.”
At press time, employees had received a working notice of layoff based on length of service.
New and returning students have been personally notified. “It’s a bit risky being transparent, but we feel it’s the right thing to do,” Guenther says. “We’re doing a delicate dance of assuming we will go forward” while accepting that the coming school year may look significantly different.
“If this has run its course, we need to hear that,” says Dueck. “But I hope our situation can be a catalyst for serious conversation on the link between higher education and our collective mission as a church.”
Guenther observes faculty and staff must now practise the risk-taking faith they encourage in their students.
“We want to see God’s hand – to accept reality as it may be but also be open to the possibility that God can make things happen,” says Guenther. “There is hope here, a good sense of morale; I like to think that is the Spirit of God with us.”