After a roller coaster ride of recent events, Providence Christian College in Pasadena, CA, rejoiced to announce that on March 11, 2013, it was granted initial accreditation status by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
“The granting of accreditation is a sweeping confirmation to our students, alumni, staff and supporters that this enterprise to establish a Reformed Christian College on the West Coast is a worthwhile, well-founded and particularly a sustainable enterprise,” says A. Michael Kiledjian, Director of Advancement at Providence. “In a very tangible way accreditation has lifted the spirits of all stakeholders with confidence in this institution and thankfulness to God for his blessing.”
Providence faculty, staff, students, and board members celebrated the accreditation milestone during a special chapel service. Dr. Dominic Aquila, Providence’s Interim President, said, “Although Providence has always pursued and maintained the highest standards of academic excellence in the classroom, receiving accreditation underscores an important milestone for Providence, its constituents, as well as for current and future students. It is a testament to the overall financial sustainability of the college. Additionally, accreditation will provide a more favorable opportunity for students to pursue post-graduate education. Our accreditation from WASC also means that Providence is the only WASC accredited Reformed undergraduate institution of higher education on the West Coast.”
Founded in 2003, Providence initiated the accreditation process in 2004. It received eligibility status in 2005 and candidacy status in 2009. WASC conducted an official review in 2010, followed by on onsite educational effectiveness visit in 2012. But 2012 was a year of great changes and challenges for the college.
“In the past year we have overcome some major obstacles to get this accreditation, including significant financial hurdles, with the support of our Reformed constituency,” says Larissa Kamps, Director of Enrollment Management. “It’s a wonderful story about how God has worked to bring Providence to where she is today. It has been a season of miracles for this emerging college and is an exciting time as we move forward!”
The school’s accreditation process didn’t progress as hoped after the official review in 2010. A follow-up report in March and a meeting in November of 2011 revealed WASC concerns about financial sustainability, enrollment management, and educational effectiveness, particularly with regard to offering multiple majors for a small student body.
In March of 2012, that accreditation setback was exacerbated when the school confronted the impending loss of its president. A press release announced that Dr. J. Derek Halvorson had accepted a position as president for Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA, effective July 1, 2012. The same press release, however, emphasized plans for Providence to merge with Covenant College.
But as the two schools began working together toward a fast-paced merger, Covenant’s accreditation requirements complicated the process. It became increasingly obvious to Providence’s Board of Trustee that Providence should not pursue the merger.
In a May 3, 2012, press release, Providence Board Chairman Pete Nanninga stated that after “much study and prayer” the Board had concluded it wasn’t the right time for a merger. “The expedited time frame for implementation was becoming increasingly difficult,” he wrote, adding that “neither party could have sufficiently predicted the extent of the challenges that Covenant’s regional accreditation agency compliance would present.”
The future of Providence Christian College appeared grim to many, but the school’s leadership and supporters stood in the gap.
“Between the setback in expected accreditation, the public relations nightmare of merger/no merger with Covenant, the resulting institutional confusion, and the abrupt abandonment of presidential leadership the future of Providence appeared bleak,” says Mr. Kiledjian. “Yet these circumstances served to underscore the strength and resolve of the Providence executive leadership, the board and its supporters.”
In attempts to garner the necessary accreditation to go forward independently as a viable institution, Providence launched an academic program restructuring as well as its Providence Promise Campaign.
“The academic restructuring (from six majors to one major with 10 emphases) was predominantly driven by the accrediting agency’s concern that size of the student population did not support the offering,” explains Mr. Kiledjian. “Additionally there were financial concerns, in particular regarding the amount of debt on the books and heavy reliance on donation income versus student tuition income.”
He notes the “disconnect” between the way the world operates and the way the Reformed community builds institutions, driven by the conviction that God will provide. “We often subsidize these institutions, particularly in the beginning stages because they are important to us,” he adds. “This is a difficult concept for the world to understand.”
Within the first month of the Promise Campaign, Providence obtained a $1 million loan forgiveness, which transformed the school’s financial outlook. Then the school received a commitment of a $1 million matching gift to be paid in two parts between 2012 and 2015. The school garnered an additional $547,000 toward the campaign by June 1, 2012.
Additional leadership was provided when the Board appointed Dr. Aquila as Interim President on July 1, 2012. Dr. Aquila is a capable leader with pastoral and teaching experience in a variety of American and international contexts. Formerly the Dean of Students and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Reformed Theological Seminary, he continues his position as President of New Geneva Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, CO, while providing presidential leadership at Providence.
Soon after Dr. Aquila’s appointment, Providence’s Board of Trustees struck a search committee to begin seeking a candidate to serve as President in a more permanent capacity. But it was difficult for the committee to proceed with confident direction while accreditation remained elusive.
Last fall (2012) Providence Christian College implemented its newly restructured academic program that offers a four-year liberal arts degree with ten separate concentrations.
When the WASC conducted its on-site visit in November of 2012, they were amazed at the changes in the school.
“The accrediting agency expressed astonishment at the dramatic turnabout that had taken hold in the face of great adversity,” says Mr. Kiledjian. “The swift and comprehensive response by the Board, senior executive staff, and the supporters of Providence in 2012 essentially knocked the socks off the visiting team in November 2012.”
In a March 2013 letter and phone call informing Providence of the decision, WASC repeatedly listed the strength of leadership, speed of response, and extent of change as pivotal aspects in awarding accreditation
Receiving accreditation gives new impetus to Providence’s search for a president.
“It’s an entirely different situation than it was two weeks ago,” says Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel, who serves on the Presidential Search Committee. “Providence becomes an interesting and attractive place to a presidential candidate. This opens up enormous possibilities and potentials. We’re poised to move forward.”
In 2010, Providence moved from its site in Ontario to rented facilities on the campus of William Carey International University in Pasadena, a move that allows great room for expansion. Currently 69 students attend Providence Christian College.
To celebrate accreditation, Providence is offering a guaranteed $2000 Celebration Scholarship in addition to the $5000 Reformed Scholarship already offered. More information is available at providencecc.net/reformed and providencecc.net/celebration.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the April 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.