An Adventist College for the 21st Century

David E. Greenlaw.JPG

Florida Hospital College President David Greenlaw talks to Spectrum about creating a different kind of educational institution and how Adventism can reach outside itself to the broader community.

Question: You are the founder of Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences. Can you describe what inspired you to start the college, and what led up to its opening?

Answer: First, some background might help. Florida Hospital is the largest SDA institution in the world. It has had a constant need for new professionals in nursing and allied health.

In 1989 the hospital president, Tom Werner, was concerned about the shortage. He realized the hospital needed a constant steady stream of new employees, and he wanted individuals from a faith-based educational institution so the healing ministry of Christ would not be lost.

That is the mantra that Florida Hospital constantly works to promote. The hospital believes that people do not just have physical ailments to be treated; the people who come in are the children of God, and the hospital believes it should minister to the whole person.

Question: So how did you get involved?

Answer: I am seminary trained. I taught religion and ministerial education at Solusi College in Zimbabwe, then taught at Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts.

Florida Hospital was going through a transition and they asked me to come and develop a more broad-based pastoral care department. I did that for three years.

Then Tom Werner asked me to do early studies on the feasibility of starting a college of health sciences and come back and make a presentation to the hospital board in six months.

I did, and Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, owned by Florida Hospital, opened in 1992 with 243 students.

Question: What makes Florida Hospital College different than other third-level Adventist institutions?

Answer: Here’s the background on why. My years in Africa helped me to understand that Adventism could reach a much broader community if it reached outside itself.

Adventist grade schools and middle schools in Africa invite communities in. Many of their students are not Adventists. One thing we are seeing today is large growth in Adventism in Africa. This can be directly related back to the fact that many individuals are not strangers to Adventism. Many were educated in Adventist schools.

The idea of developing an exclusively Adventist college did not appeal to me.

I wanted to make sure that the community we developed here reflected the wider community our graduates would work in.

We are more concerned with developing a Christian school run by Adventists than another uniquely Adventist school.

Some of our faculty and staff are not Adventist, but all are committed Christians. In some ways some of them are more committed to our mission than some of those in uniquely Adventist institutions. That’s just the reality.

Our student population also draws from a broad community of Christian people. Our students come from many faiths – we even have some Muslim students.

After all, these students are going to go out in the world and work in a real faith environment. It is important that they learn to work with all kinds of other people, and understand other people’s journeys.

We are a deliberately Christian, faith-based institution. I make no apologies for that.

Our job at the college is to provide the most excellent education in health sciences in nursing that is available to anyone anywhere in the context of Christianity.

Question: Are you succeeding?

Answer: I know we are.

Question: Do you think you sometimes get left out when people think of Adventist colleges? You aren’t usually listed among the Andrews’ and the Southerns.

Answer: I don’t think that’s deliberate.

I belong to the Adventist Association of Colleges and Universities in North America. In fact, I am the treasurer of that organization. I am a colleague with presidents of other Adventist colleges.

Also, ours is a brand new college, compared to others. Sometimes we are left out because people just don’t remember we are here.

But we have 2,300 students. Which other Adventist colleges can say they have that many? Loma Linda, Andrews, and Southern. That’s it.

Question: Is your enrollment growing?

Answer: Yes, every year. We keep adding new programs. Part of our growth is new programs. We just added a new masters degree: a certified nurse anesthetist.

We have 23 spots in the program, and we had 150 applicants to this very specialized course.

Question: What is the ratio of your Adventist staff to non-Adventist staff?

Answer: 60% Adventist, 40% non-Adventist. All those who teach in our pre-professional department are Adventists. In many other programs we cannot find any qualified Adventist professionals to teach.

Question: If you had two equally qualified candidates applying for a teaching position, only one was Adventist, would you hire the Adventist over the non-Adventist?

Answer: Yes, we would hire the Adventist, as long as they were equally qualified.

Question: Does the college focus on religious activities or require any kind of religious curriculum?

Answer: Every student has to take a certain number of hours in religion as part of his or her coursework.

We have three full-time religion teachers.

We are now seeking to measure our learning outcomes, and find out how faith-based education has actually helped us.

Question: Do your religion courses have an Adventist slant?

Answer: Ernie Bursey, who was at Walla Walla College for many years, is the lead religion professor.

Our courses are taught from an Adventist perspective, but the goal is to help people understand the journey with Jesus.

At times we have taught a course in Adventist beliefs. But we are more concerned with ethics and bioethics – those kinds of things.

Question: Does your religion requirement make it hard for you to compete with other health education institutions? Do some potential students decide not to attend Florida Hospital College because they don’t want to take extra religion classes?

Answer: We make it clear that this is who we are from the beginning, and everybody knows coming in that we are a Christian institution. Then I remind them in orientation. If they are not interested, they would not apply here in the first place.

Question: What do you feel is the mission of the college?

Answer: There are 18,000 employees at Florida Hospital, and less than 15% are Adventist. In order to preserve the integrity of why the church would want to have a hospital, because we believe there is something different in the healing ministry of Christ, we need qualified Adventist staff.

We are known as the West Point of Florida Hospital. At this institution we develop the future leadership cadre of the largest Adventist health care system in the world.

Question: Give us some idea of the financial health of the college. Is the financial situation more stable than at many other Adventist higher education institutions?

Answer: We are probably the healthiest of all of them financially.

There are several reasons for this.

As a new institution our infrastructure is not outdated. We built lots of new facilities.

Also, it was deliberate to keep administration at a minimum, and hire faculty to do the job they are supposed to do.

We built the college on a business model, not the faculty senate model. Decisions can be rapid and implemented. That means the institution can save itself from dilemmas.

I am not only the president but the CEO.

There is a dilemma when the president of a college has to get faculty approval to do things. They are academics who are great at what they do, but to make good decisions you have to be responsible for how money is spent.

One suggestion a while back was for AUC to become a feeder school for Andrews. The faculty said no. But sometimes a business decision is better than an emotional decision.

Question: What are the main challenges that Florida Hospital College faces?

Answer: The major challenges are: how we expand and how we control our expansion.

Question: Many others wish those were their challenges!

Answer: We all make our own challenges.

It’s possible to get too big if expansion is not done in a controlled way.

One thing we are working on, for example, is creating more entry level degrees into professions like physical therapy or pharmacy. We are going to see more movement in that direction.

We are also creating programs across the country.

Adventist Health Systems has four hospitals in the Denver area. They have a hard time finding professional employees, so we are going to take our associate degree in nursing to them. Students in Denver will be able to watch real-time streaming lectures from our campus in Orlando. Staff in Denver will manage the clinical experience.

We are negotiating for a similar program in southern California.

We are part of the Adventist Health Systems, and part of our job is to give Adventist Health Systems the employees they are looking for.

In Orlando, we expand based on what Florida Hospital needs. Our new master’s program, for instance, was developed because the hospital said it needed those graduates.

There is a very real vetting process to decide what are essential degrees.

We then partner with the hospital to develop a degree and move it forward.

One result is that every student who graduates has a job. No, they are not obliged to go work for Florida Hospital, but they have a marketable degree that will get them a job.

That’s part of the business model.

Question: You studied theology. Isn’t running an educational institution a very different career path?

Answer: I never intended to be a minister. I wanted to teach – which I did. I understand business. I understand academics too. I am very proud of what we have accomplished here.

Question: Do you still teach any courses?

Answer: I hardly have time to breathe.

Question: Where do you see Adventist third-level education in the future, and how do you see it changing?

Answer: I believe that there is still a tremendous future for Seventh-day Adventist higher education.

But I think there are some things that need to be seriously considered. First, how many schools can we afford to have exclusively for Adventists?

And second, at what point does cost become a factor in whether students will attend or not? It’s not unusual for an Adventist institution to cost a student more than $20,000 a year. How many families can afford $100,000 for education if their sons and daughters are going to become teachers or pastors? The high cost is very difficult for people to deal with.

Students need another choice. This is an essential thing for the church to look at. One of the schools (maybe AUC or CUC) ought to look at the possibility of becoming a junior feeder college, where only general education subjects are taught, and students only pay half the price it costs to go to a place with so many departments and so many different degrees. It would be an Adventist community college. It would give lots of people the chance to get an associate degree, then go on to Andrews or another place.

This is an idea whose time has come. If we don’t do something like this, we’ll lose more and more Adventist students to community college.

The Mormons have had their own community college for years.

Question: What are your plans after you leave Florida Hospital College? Maybe you would like to start an Adventist community college?

Answer: I have no plans to retire for at least the next four years.

I am really proud of what’s happened here.

I can leave the junior college to someone else.

I might do some writing. I would like to write in the area of practical theology.

David Greenlaw is the founding and current President of Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences. Dr. Greenlaw holds baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral degrees in divinity. He has been a professor of religion at two colleges. Dr. Greenlaw helped found the American Consortium of Schools of Health Science, and is the current Treasurer of the Adventist Association of Colleges and Universities.

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