Editor’s note: The following article was reprinted with permission from ReligionUnplugged.com.
By Rafa Oliveira
Alliance University, a Christian college in lower Manhattan that primarily served minority students, announced it will close this year after losing its accreditation amid other hurdles.
The school, previously known as Nyack College, received a notice from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education June 26 that its accreditation will be officially revoked beginning Dec. 31.
According to Alliance’s official statement on the matter, “The Board has made the difficult decision to wind down on-campus and online educational offerings as of August 31, 2023. Alliance University will not offer courses for the Fall semester. This news is a tremendous loss for us who love Alliance University and the people here. We are all grieving.”
This means that since the end of the 2023 spring semester, New York City’s only two Protestant Christian colleges have simultaneously faced the removal of their accreditation. While Alliance has officially announced closure, The King’s College, also located in Manhattan’s financial district, is in the appeal process. The King’s board has said it’s seeking other universities to acquire or partner with King’s.
The higher education commission had placed both Alliance University and The King’s College on a “show cause” status, meaning that both institutions were given the opportunity to file a report stating why their accreditation should not be discontinued. The report must show evidence that the institution is operational, with students actively enrolled in its degree programs, and has sufficient resources to fulfill its mission and goals as well as support its educational purposes and programs. During this process, an institution remains accredited.
Alliance filed the report and appeared before the commission after receiving the show cause action notice on June 22 and ad adverse action notice on June 26. The commission deemed the report insufficient for the school to retain its accreditation, and as a result, Alliance will officially close Aug. 31. Alliance officially announced that its students would be unable to attend Alliance in the fall on June 30.
“Quite frankly, they didn’t believe our numbers,” said David Turk, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Alliance University, in an interview with ReligionUnplugged.com. “They didn’t believe that we were going to have the largest class in the last 15 years, and they didn’t believe that we had a balanced budget for next year. I just sent out letters to 687 admitted students for the fall. We’ve never had that sort of enrollment for 20 years.”
According to Turk, Alliance was just coming out of the perfect storm of lower enrollment and budget deficits, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. To be denied accreditation just as the institution was entering into what seemed like a more promising era is the “real tragedy,” he said.
Alliance’s Board of Trustees also decided not to appeal the higher education commission’s decision.
“We didn’t appeal at all because we felt there was no chance,” Turk said. “It was very difficult for the Middle States teams who came to campus because none of them were from evangelical schools. So it’s very hard for them to see that these are students whom God has called to come here, and it’s the only place they applied. There really isn’t anyone at the Middle States commission that understands evangelical colleges. When you get a blank stare from commissioners or team members about how our students feel that they’re called by God to go to your school, they think we’re some sort of nutcase.”
Alliance’s student body was very ethnically diverse, with 30% African American, 30% Hispanic, 20% Asian and many of the rest international in the most recent school year. Alliance historically existed to serve students from The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination and also vast numbers of students from immigrant churches in the New York City area.
The denomination’s founder, the Rev. Albert Benjamin Simpson, also started the college in the early 1880s. He worked as a pastor and evangelist to immigrant communities in New York City. And his ideas and approach were thoroughly embedded into the culture of the college even up to its closing.
“I would teach a very large history class, and I would ask the class, ‘Tell me where your family or your parents came from,’ and nobody would say the United States,” Turk said. “Our school was founded to help immigrants, and so that will be a major blow for them too.”
These students and their families are now left with eight weeks to decide their respective courses of action before the fall semester begins.
“I wish we had really been told that there’s no chance — that through all these hearings we wouldn’t get anywhere,” Turk added.
Both King’s and Alliance had operated on budget deficits for most of the last decade. Higher Ed Dive reported that Alliance surpassed $90 million in debt during the 2020 fiscal year. ReligionUnplugged.com’s own piece on King’s notes that the college had been operating with approximately $7-$10 million in debt since 2013. Both schools had previously operated campuses in upstate New York before moving into Manhattan. King’s was in Briarcliff Manor, New York, before moving into Manhattan in the late 1990s. Nyack College was in Nyack, New York, before financial pressures forced it to sell property and relocate to Manhattan around 2015.
Turk told ReligionUnplugged.com that Alliance’s consultants were surprised that the higher education commission did not give the institution more time to prove its projected enrollment and fiscal numbers legitimate.
Alliance is the latest of 19 Christian colleges to have closed or merged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus exacerbated many rising demographic and cultural trends that were already contributing to the decline of Christian higher education. One of these reasons is that more and more members of Generation Z are disaffiliating from religion, which diminishes the target audience for Christian colleges and universities.
“There’s a decline in religious faith among the American population, especially young people,” said David Talcott, an incoming fellow of philosophy at New St. Andrews College and a former professor at The King’s College. “This is also a very pragmatic generation, and many evangelical schools don’t fit that. Who wants to study Christian philosophy when one could get hired easily without that? This pragmatism is only growing among young people.”
The 19 Christian colleges that have closed also form a part of a larger group of over 30 small colleges and universities that have also shut down since March 2020.
“It is not just Christian colleges that are being affected; all small, private institutions — religious or not — are facing an uphill battle,” said David Leedy, dean of students at The King’s College. “The reasons for the uptick in closures among smaller, private colleges are multifaceted. COVID-19, of course, affected enrollment at many institutions. But even before the onslaught of COVID-19, colleges and universities were approaching a ‘demographic cliff’ — thanks to declining birth rates in the U.S. after the 2008-2010 financial crisis, there are fewer and fewer high school graduates and therefore fewer students attending college.”
In New York City, Alliance and King’s both have strong partnerships with churches and nonprofits scattered throughout the city. Both schools help train and provide driven leaders who can lead and operate within these institutions. The loss of Alliance and the potential loss of King’s, from this perspective, will be “severe,” Turk said.
Rafa Oliveira is an intern with ReligionUnplugged.com covering technology and religion. He is a recent graduate of The King’s College in New York City with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. He speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish and is an ardent Manchester United Supporter.