Editor’s note: The following commentary, by MinistryWatch.com President Warren Smith, is reprinted with permission. For the last several months, MinistryWatch has covered the potential closing of The King’s College in Manhattan.
By Warren Smith
The King’s College, which has been much in the news lately as a result of financial and governance problems, announced that it “mutually and amicably agreed to end” its collaboration” with Primacorp Ventures, Inc.
Primacorp Ventures is a for-profit corporation led by controversial entrepreneur Peter Chung.
Henry Moriello made the announcement late Friday, April 21. The statement said Stockwell Day would continue in his role as Interim President to assist with transition matters, but other board members with ties to Primacorp have resigned. They include Rodney Bergin, Jim Cunningham, Soon Chung, and Marvin Kehler.
The following people have been appointed to the board: Andy Mills, John Beckett, John Urban, Matt Dieterle, Steve French, Bethany Pickett Shah, Alexandra Harrison Gaiser, and Christopher Ross. Andy Mills was a long-time board member who also served as interim president on two different occasions. John Beckett is also a former board member and philanthropist. Other new board members are either alumni or long-time friends of the college.
Moriello, David Palomares, and Susie Wilson are the only members of the existing board who will remain.
Many observers believe that terminating the relationship with Primacorp and adding board members with King’s College ties was vital in restoring donor trust.
The King’s College is unique in the world of Christian higher education in that it has attempted to provide an academically rigorous and distinctively Christian education in the heart of New York City, a city known both for its cultural influence but also for its high cost of doing business.
The realities of doing business in New York meant that the college has often had financial struggles. Those struggles went public on Feb. 6, when King’s announced it was experiencing a “funding shortfall of approximately $2.6 million for the spring semester, due primarily to the timing of pending income.”
The King’s College has a long history of Christian education in the New York area. Evangelist and Billy Graham associate Percy B. Crawford founded The King’s College in 1938 in Belmar, N. J. The school moved to Delaware City, Del., in 1941 and then to Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., in 1955. The school grew, reaching nearly 1000 students by 1980. But it then went through a period of decline, and in 1994 the school shut down.
It did, though, retain its charter – which turned out to be a valuable asset for Bill Bright, then president of Campus Crusade for Christ, who had long wanted to build a distinctively Christian and academically rigorous college in New York City. The school re-opened as a ministry of Campus Crusade – now called Cru — in 1999 with just a few dozen students. It grew to more than 500 students by 2018.
The problems at King’s have drawn national attention, in part because the school, though small, has been seen as a unique resource for the evangelical church in the United States.
Alumnus Rochelle Petersen wrote for “First Things” that “The King’s College is worth saving, because it offers a different kind of education. King’s has kept hold of its core purpose: to educate Christians in the best that has been thought and said, and to equip them to hold their own in the institutions that shape our culture.” This sentiment caught the attention of publications as diverse as Christianity Today, Inside Higher Ed, and The New York Times, all of which did long features on the college, its struggles, and its unique role in Christian higher education.
The King’s College is not the only Christian college facing financial challenges. Changing demographics, COVID, evolving technologies that make distance learning more attractive, and changing public perceptions about the value and high costs of a college education have reached what some are calling an “inflection point” in higher education.
In 2020, Moody’s Investment Service downgraded the higher education sector of the economy from stable to negative. Moody’s analysis said nearly a third of America’s public and private universities were already operating at a deficit.
MinistryWatch has reported on the closure a number of Christian colleges over the past few years. Nebraska Christian College shut down in 2020. Also in 2020, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary announced it would no longer offer doctoral degrees in biblical archeology. Cincinnati Christian University announced it closed its academic programs in 2019.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen said as many as half of all universities will close or go bankrupt in the next decade. The Great Recession drove a significant drop in the U.S. birthrate that has continued, and that will impact higher education for decades to come.
Nathan Grawe popularized the term “birth dearth” in his 2017 book, “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.” He believes the number of students graduating from high school in New England will be 24 percent lower in 2029 than it was in 2012.
DISCLOSURE: Warren Smith’s son is a graduate of The King’s College. Smith served as a consultant to King’s in 2010 and 2011.
Steve Rabey contributed to this story.