School of Professional Studies to be dissolved

The school includes the BOLD program and the the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. President Corey blames the cut on declining enrollment.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

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The BOLD degree completion and Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership programs will no longer exist by June 2013, and have already begun a three-year phase-out process.

The School of Professional Studies, which houses the two programs, will dissolve, meaning the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics, Master of Arts in Science and Religion and English Language Studies Program will fall elsewhere in the university’s structure. MOL has accepted a final set of new students this spring, but BOLD has not.

University leaders determined that the BOLD and MOL programs, which had been losing more money than they generated for years and had seen declining enrollment of 49 percent and 24 percent respectively over the past five years, had no “long-term viability in their current model,” as a university announcement reads. President Barry Corey emphasized how difficult and painful the decision, ultimately his, was, but didn’t second-guess himself.

“It was the right decision at the right time,” said Corey, who received a supporting recommendation from his administrative council, as well as unanimous approval from the board of trustees.

The announcement called the closure of the programs a “teaching out” process, in which students now enrolled will have the chance to complete their degrees. BOLD, which allows adults with prior college credit to graduate with bachelor degrees, offers a psychology track and an organizational leadership track, not to be confused with the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MOL) program that will also phase out by June 2013. Together, the programs are tailored to fit the lifestyles of adults, particularly working adults, who want to enhance their education for professional and personal reasons.

As to the other SPS programs, ELSP will move to the Cook School of Intercultural Studies, and the science and religion and apologetics programs will move to the School of Arts and Sciences. The university announcement said the other programs aren’t in danger of closing.

The future is foggy for affected faculty and staff of the School of Professional Studies, however, who number at least 25 full-timers, in addition to about 100 adjuncts, according to Ron Mooradian, senior director of human resources. While some positions will stay through June 2013, many will end much sooner. Metzger officials said they will try to offer jobs within Biola to those interested, but openings are scarce.

“We have committed to the 25 regular employees that we will be proactive in trying to place them into other jobs at Biola,” Mooradian wrote in an e-mail.

Discussions about the programs’ financial woes have been underway for as many as 10 years, said Carl Schreiber, resigning vice president of business and financial affairs. The university didn’t release specific numbers for the programs’ cash flow versus costs.

“The extent of the red ink was very substantial,” Schreiber said.

In November 2007, Corey created a set of criteria the programs needed to reach to be generating more money than they were losing by the end of the current fiscal year. Those goals weren’t met, he said. Corey cited the price tags of real estate investments for the off-campus sites as one of the chief expenses. BOLD has extension sites in Inglewood, Orange County, Laguna Hills, Vista, San Diego County and Chino Hills, in addition to La Mirada.

Biola’s inability to compete in a changing world of higher education was cited as one of the primary factors for declining enrollment. SPS began in the 1990s, when the Christian program was unique. However, other Christian universities have begun similar programs and opened their doors to non-Christians, too, giving them greater pools of students to draw from, Corey explained. Azusa Pacific University is one example.

“We have seen our mission to actually reach out to a larger audience,” said Fred Garlett, dean at APU’s Center for Adult and Professional Studies.

Some students say more could be done to rescue Biola’s floundering programs.

“What has Biola been doing for the last four years to make improvements or grow?” probed Matthew Henderson, who is currently enrolled in BOLD along with his wife, Katie.

Biola hasn’t altered the basic operating format of the professional programs to attract students, as Corey confirmed. Meanwhile, schools like Master’s College have expanded their programs. Master’s College added a new adult degree track for biblical counseling last year. Wayne Dell, who oversees the school’s Center for Professional Studies, said enrollment in the new program has exceeded expectations.

“It has really taken off,” Dell said. “People recognize the value of it.”

APU offers online tracks through its adult programs in nursing and organizational leadership. Corey, however, emphasized that offering BOLD or MOL entirely online would compromise cornerstones of the university, like building community relationships and character.

“We’re not going to let technology to replace our strong educational programs; we’re going to allow technology to enhance our educational programs,” Corey said. “There’s a big difference between replacing and enhancing.”

Some students said elements of Biola’s reputation is at risk.

“In terminating these programs, it certainly doesn’t help Biola’s standing in that area,” said Bob Hayden, a 2008 grad of MOL who has used what he learned in the program to further his design business. “People will think of Azusa Pacific or Brandman University or Cal Baptist now instead of Biola. … It could be perceived by some that the goal of this change is to not continue to look to reach an adult marketplace, which means in some sense, you’re leaving out part of the priesthood of all believers.”

Hayden said traditional four-year institutions often don’t know how to reach adult learners, whom he called a “different breed” from traditional undergrads. Corey emphasized that Biola is still committed to non-traditional education.

Scott Asai, a 2006 graduate of MOL, said offering the programs online would be preferable to eliminating them entirely.

“Nothing beats face to face,” he said. “But at the same time, if it’s going to keep the program alive …”

It wasn’t just the exceptional classes that made the program; it was team-building exercises like camping trips to Joshua Tree, alumni said. Hayden remembered surviving the coldest conditions Joshua Tree had seen in 40 years alongside the dozen-or-so other members of his cohort group.

Together, BOLD and MOL granted 169 degrees in the 2008-2009 academic year, one student more than Rosemead School of Psychology and the School of Education combined, according to enrollment and graduation reports. Corey said, however, that while the BOLD and MOL programs comprise more students than some programs, the financial burdens specific to those programs, particularly off-campus sites, make them especially costly to operate.

Many alumni and remaining students are still upset about the decision.

“From my perspective, Biola’s decision to close the BOLD program is extremely demoralizing and ultimately affects every BOLD student who is currently attending or has ever graduated from the program,” said Henderson. “Right now we are working toward completing a degree that Biola will no longer offer and from a school that is defunct.”

Corey said elements of the phasing-out programs may reappear in some other form, but no specific plans are in the works.

“It was a decision where the head and the heart weren’t congruent,” Corey said. “… I feel for those folks who have been affected by it, I really do.”

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School of Professional Studies to be dissolved