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WCG cuts Ambassador University's $1.2 million annual subsidy

By Mac Overton

BIG SANDY, Texas--Ambassador University, which had expected to receive a $1.2 million subsidy this school year from its sponsor, the Worldwide Church of God, has been notified that there will be no subsidy, college officials said. The most recent cut was announced to the faculty via a Pastor General's Report supplement sent on E-mail Aug. 23.

The most recent cut followed hard on the heels of financial problems outlined by Dr. Russell Duke, Ambassador University president, in an Aug. 9 fund-raising letter to alumni. The letter was mailed before the University learned of the church's decision to suspend subsidies for this year.

According to Brian Tyson, the university's public-relations director, the school is looking for alternative funding, but that the university "will remain open."

"We face the 1996 academic year at Ambassador with an unusual mixture of excitement and optimism, on one hand, and apprehension and concern on the other," Dr. Duke had written in his letter to alumni. "Ambassador has truly come to a crossroads as we close in on our 50th anniversary."

Herbert W. Armstrong founded the school in 1947 as Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif.

"What may appear to some to be an uncertain future," Dr. Duke continued, "can actually be a golden one, particularly with your help."

In his letter Dr. Duke stressed the need for AU to become self-sufficient and not to count on subsidies from its church sponsor.

"A look at the hard numbers can give you an idea of the challenge this presents for Ambassador," he wrote, relaying the following:

In 1990 the school received $14.4 million from the WCG of its $20 million budget for 1,200 students.

During the 1995-96 academic year, the university received a $5 million subsidy to support a $12.5 million budget for 760 full-time students.

"That represented a rather remarkable reduction of $9.5 million in subsidy over just a five-year period," Dr. Duke commented. "And yet here we are, still standing, still debt-free as an institution. God-willing, that's how we'll remain."

Before hearing of the elimination of the church's subsidy, he wrote that, for the 1996-97 academic year, the university anticipated receiving $1.2 million cash from the church to support a $9.6 million budget--a reduction of almost $4 million in a year.

The president sees further downsizing and greater sacrifice by faculty and staff. The university has limited cash reserves, he said, which will let it operate debt-free through the 1996-97 academic year and possibly the year after that.

Because of the subsidy cuts and the desire not to cut into cash reserves, Dr. Duke said the university is stepping up its fund-raising efforts.

"During the 1995-96 fiscal year, we processed almost $1.5 million in gifts and grants from individuals, corporations and foundations," he said.

Fees to students have gradually increased since 1990, when tuition stood at $90 a unit, where it had been for at least two decades.

With incremental increases over the past six years, tuition has gradually increased to $125 a unit for the coming year. Dr. Duke said this is less than half the average charged by private schools of similar size and type.

"Our dilemma lies in the need to increase tuition, room and board in order to meet our bills, and at the same time accommodate the budgetary concerns of our students already enrolled at the university. But we no longer can afford to give away the store, so to speak, and still expect to operate a successful university. So we plan another tuition increase to $175 a unit in 1997."

He said that the university is taking steps to stabilize enrollment, including efforts to attract students from the "greater Christian community," including ads in Christianity Today magazine and its sister publication, Campus Life.

"We are also recruiting heavily from high schools here in East Texas," Dr. Duke said. "However, most people in East Texas know us for our past exclusivity, so we have an enormous task ahead of us. It's not an unsurmountable [sic] one, however--just one that will take time."

In spite of the financial problems, "at the same time, exciting change permeates Ambassador. Twelve majors are now available. We have several new students who come from other Christian denominations, and they are adapting well and have brought a renewed optimism to the campus."

He said AU's sports teams "have committed Christian athletes and coaches. We expect them to be much improved this year."

Dr. Duke mentioned that, in an economy move, the university has contracted with the Marriott Corp. to manage its student dining.

He said that, though the school's major focus continues to be the education of youths of the WCG, AU wants to recruit students from other churches.

The university's board will also expand to include regents who are not WCG members.

"This should strengthen Ambassador's presence and impact in the Christian community, especially in East Texas," Dr. Duke said. "In addition, faculty, staff and students are free to worship with the church of their choice.

"As you can see, there is a lot to be positive and optimistic about. "And yet, the financial realities are staring us squarely in the face . . . Ambassador has helped us through its many years, and I believe the majority of alumni desire to see it thrive."

He suggested the following ways alumni could help:

  • Personal donations. "Our greatest need is for unrestricted gifts for our operating budget. Last fall, we raised more than $16,000 in response to my fund-raising letter to you."
  • Corporate gift-matching.
  • Student recruitment.
  • Establishing, either individually or with other alumni, student scholarships.


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