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College takes action in anticipation of HLC probation

August 21st, 2019

Threshing stone

Stress over the past number of years on Bethel's operating budget and overall financial position has led its accrediting body to recommend a probation period.

During a routine 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation process earlier this year, the peer review team of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) expressed concern about Bethel's budgeting and finance. 

As a result, two committees within the HLC recommended that Bethel College be placed on probation. While an official HLC ruling on the final determination of probation for Bethel will not be announced until November 2019, college officials are acting preemptively in communication and strategies. 

Bethel College has been preparing students for meaningful lives of work and service through faith formation, the liberal arts and practical experience in career pathways since 1887. 

Bethel College’s vision is to graduate students who increase human flourishing (shalom) in society by owning and enacting their faith, demonstrating compassion for the powerless, engaging in critical thought and bringing value to the workplace. 

As a quality institution of higher education, Bethel has a long history of providing a valued liberal arts education to students and helping them to identify their calling and God’s purpose for their professional lives.

Bethel leadership has been aware of the financial stressors on the institution for some time and has been actively working towards solutions.

“This challenge is fundamentally an issue of balancing expenses with revenues and creating more cash flow,” said Vice President for Business Affairs Allen Wedel. “Bethel is currently developing a more complete financial analysis plan for ensuring that the institution can meet its financial commitments as well.”  

Bethel College and its Board of Directors are defining performance benchmarks to monitor the financial health of the institution to achieve its goal of a balanced operating budget in FY 2021 with no supplemental endowment draws. 

“Engaged in assessing alternative strategies, Bethel is set to successfully achieve all financial goals outlined by the HLC,” Wedel added.

Probation in the judicial system and probation as used by HLC are two separate matters.

Bethel College did not engage in any illegal financial activity. HLC probation is “a public sanction that attaches to an institution’s accreditation status. [Probation] status indicates that an accredited institution is no longer in compliance with one or more of the Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation or Federal Compliance Requirements or is out of conformity with the Assumed Practices. The institution remains accredited while on probation.” 

The HLC action allows the college to demonstrate within two years it has remedied the issues that led to the sanction. As an accredited college, Bethel’s ability to offer financial aid to students and course transfers is not affected while on probation. 

“The HLC committees recommended probation only because of concerns with effective fiscal discipline and structures in place to promote leadership and processes,” said Bethel President Jon Gering. “This action will in no way affect the excellence of academics or services students experience at Bethel College.

“We remain accredited by the HLC and it is entirely within our capacity to make the necessary changes and exit probationary status by May 2021.”

The HLC affirmed the high caliber of Bethel’s education and noted that Bethel maintains the ability to fulfill its mission and respond to future challenges and opportunities. 

Bethel Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Milliman, Ph.D., noted the college has a leadership team ensuring that advancements in academic programs are fully engaged.

“Bethel’s administration is evaluating potential programs that will enhance enrollment and can be effectively delivered,” Milliman said, “such as revising operations to augment students’ curricular and practical experience in career pathways.

“These steps will help us put the college on a more solid financial foundation.”

Bethel continues to focus on the new mission, vision and values statements, significant alumni support and dedicated faculty delivering relevant programs. 

The new guiding documents were adopted by the Board of Directors in spring 2019 and demonstrate Bethel’s commitment to student learning and achievement. 

“We believe that our academic program, athletic offerings, dedication to our student-centered mission and vision, and enhanced fiscal discipline will allow Bethel College graduates to flourish in society for years to come,” Gering stated. 

Bethel has also embarked on a capital campaign, “Engage the Future,” that will add to the academic, physical and mental, and financial health of the college. 

The campaign goal is a fitness and wellness center, academic program enhancements and technology upgrades to assist in recruiting, retaining and graduating students.

Bethel College, a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887, is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19 and U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Liberal Arts Colleges 2018. Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates according to career-resources site Zippia.com. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.