President of the first fully online Adventist university David Siguelnitzky talks about what Herbert Fletcher University is offering Adventist students in Central America, and around the the world.
Question: You are president of Herbert Fletcher University, the Inter-American Division's fully online higher education institution. Why did the Inter-American Division want an online university, and when was it founded?
Answer: The fact is that our division has 42 countries, and many universities — but there are not many fully online programs available. Many of our brothers and sisters want to get an Adventist education, but unless they are relatively young, single, and don’t have to work, they find it quite difficult to register and study in a conventional setting.
Just imagine, if you live a hundred miles (or even 300 or 400 miles) from a Seventh-day Adventist university — would you be able to enroll and study there?
Or if you have a job that requires high mobility, or are a mother with small children, imagine how your circumstances would limit your options for studying in a conventional environment.
Many people would like to study and advance their careers in life, but find themselves limited. These and many other difficulties moved the Inter-American Division (IAD) toward the development of Herbert Fletcher University (HFU).
How many students are enrolled at Herbert Fletcher University, and where are they from? How do you recruit?
Herbert Fletcher University is the newest tertiary institution within the IAD territory, and has only been operating since 2016.
Another challenge is that many people are still afraid to study online. Some people still believe that studying online is like learning how to pilot an airplane at a distance education institution.
Having said that, we had 272 students registered in July 2018. We are absolutely grateful to God first, but also to the IAD for the support and enthusiasm in pushing forward the project. It is a tremendous pleasure for me and for the team that is working with me to know how many people (and therefore families) we are helping to lift their expectations in life and their service to God, to their families and to society in general.
I believe Herbert Fletcher University only has two degrees available so far, is that right? What are they, and why did you decide to start with these?
Yes, that is correct. HFU has two degrees fully developed and operational (as well as a one-year certification program for Sabbath School superintendents and teachers). These programs are: Master of Arts in Online Instructional Design and Master of Arts in Church Administration and Leadership.
We are working on a couple of new masters programs to be submitted to the Puerto Rican government for approval. My dream is to open at least one new masters program every academic year.
Who are the teachers, and where are they from?
Our teachers (or facilitators, as we call them) are from all over the world. That is one of the great things about the online world. We can hire highly-qualified professionals from any country. We have people working for HFU from Australia, the Philippines, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and more. The truth is that we have facilitators from every single continent — but in many cases several facilitators are from a single country.
The Puerto Rican government is very strict in the approval of facilitators to teach for masters programs, therefore all of our faculty must have a PhD in the specific area in which they teach. That makes it difficult for us to find the right people for each one of the courses or programs we offer. However, the fact that we can hire from all over the world makes our life easier. Can you imagine studying online with classmates from all over the world and faculty from different continents? It is a very unique experience, and we love being able to make it possible.
What is the Inter-American Division's vision for the university? How big would they like it to be? Will it be marketed to potential students in other divisions?
The IAD is aware that having too many students from around the IAD territory could harm the local student population in our local universities, therefore we are fully open to admitting students from any country. However, the initial plan is to serve and help the IAD territory population first.
How many students would the IAD envision at the university? Well, we don’t have a number, but I believe that based on the current technology and personnel, we can facilitate over 1,000 students without difficulty. Having more than that means hiring new staff and faculty, which we are also open to. The first concern is to serve our brethren, regardless of how many or where they are.
We have seen interest from other divisions as well. Some countries have already contacted us and are asking for special plans for groups of students from their institutions or countries. We are absolutely delighted to know that in many countries, people are “seeing us” and thinking about earning one of our degrees. I believe online is the very best option (at present) to study and acquire knowledge and preparation for a better service wherever the people are.
Are there other fully online Adventist universities? Would they be competitors?
No. HFU is the only fully online Adventist university in the world. In the future there could be more, but today we are the first and last.
Competitors? Probably not. I believe that there are so many people around the world looking for an opportunity to study online that in the near future we will see, perhaps, ten times more than what we see today looking for online, good-quality, Christian tertiary education.
You are based in Puerto Rico. Why? Could the university be based anywhere?
Yes, we are based in Puerto Rico because it is a country that is part of the United States. The currency is strong and stable. Additionally a North American degree is highly desired by many people around the world. We believe there are many good reasons to be in Puerto Rico. Of course, the country is beautiful and we feel blessed to be here working for the Lord.
What is your background in education?
I started my tertiary education studying Information Systems Analysis, then Engineering in Biotechnology and later a Masters in Educational Technology (this happened when I was already working in the education field). Still later I completed a doctoral degree (PhD) in Leadership with an emphasis in Educational Technology.
What new challenges have you found in running a fully online university? What do you believe are the best ways HFU is utilizing the distance learning model?
As for the challenges: we have found that the greatest challenge is to operate as a fully online university in the academic world as it is today. Let me explain. Very few countries have specific policies and procedures to organize and give permission to operate as a fully online university. Even the Seventh-day Adventist system doesn’t have specific requirements for fully online institutions. This means that to be accredited we have to meet all the requirements for a traditional university without being one. For example, we need to have a chaplaincy service, even though our students are spread all over the world. I know that a chaplain is a key position in any Adventist institution. However, experience has taught us that online students are unlikely to share their most personal and intimate challenges with a chaplain they cannot speak to face-to-face.
The same applies to other components required for our institution that we believe are not necessary. Can you imagine our institution has to have a computer lab for our students — even though 100% of our student population is studying 100% online and living in many countries around the world?
Those are some of the challenges we have. Some challenges are financial, others physical and still others academic.
How is Herbert Fletcher University funded?
The operation of HFU is funded in two main ways: (1) student enrollment. The students are paying a major portion of our regular expenses, and (2) since HFU is an institution of the IAD, the IAD has an appropriation dedicated to HFU.
In addition, we also have agreements with other educational institutions. We help them design and implement educational packages, we train them, etc. That is another way of having permanent relationships with other institutions and of ensuring that we do all we can to serve others and at the same time use to the maximum our knowledge and experience for the benefit of many sister institutions around the world.
Where do you see the university in five years? Ten years? And will you still be in the picture?
Well, I’m not a prophet nor a son of a prophet, however, I see HFU growing and with many more programs five years from now. In 10 years, I see many more students, more staff, many full-time faculty working for HFU and many graduates with a more advanced career in life and in the business of preparing themselves to live forever in the kingdom of God.
As for me being in the picture: I don’t know what God is preparing for me. I just want to be useful and fruitful for His honor and glory. I’ve already served in six different countries (in three different divisions). I can’t imagine serving for too long in a single country. I’m ready to leave tomorrow if God asks me that, but at the same time to be here for 10 more years if that is the will of God. I work for God and He will have to tell me when and where to go next. I am open for all sorts of opportunities to serve God (wherever and whenever He decides). I’m still about 14 years away from my official retirement.
How do you see the Adventist church as a whole changing in 10 years?
That is a very complex question. In terms of figures, I see many more millions being baptized. In terms of struggling with the hardship of life, I see the Adventist church leading changes around the world, helping people, and institutions serving in the big and small cities around the world.
I can also imagine many Adventist radio and TV stations all over. However, the world is in extremely difficult times. There are so many natural disasters, wars, social turmoil, and apathy towards the core principles that we are proud to follow and share, that I believe nobody knows what to expect.
In 10 years from now I really and truly hope to be in the right side of the “river,” together with my family, loved ones, and of course, every single person that is looking for a better and closer relationship with our Lord and Saviour.
Dr. David Siguelnitzky, President of Herbert Fletcher University, was previously Director of Instructional Operations at the same institution.
He has experience in varied fields of study beginning as a Systems Analyst from the Instituto Superior Mariano Moreno (1987 - Argentina), Engineer in Biotechnology from the International College for Technology (1991 - Israel), Master in Information Systems from Technion University (1994 - Israel), Master in Educational Technology from the Pontificia Universidad Madre y Maestra (2004 - Dominican Republic) and a PhD in Leadership with emphasis in Educational Technology from Andrews University (2009 - USA). He was born in Argentina, and has worked in Argentina, Israel, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago and Puerto Rico.