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February 21, 2018

Atlantic Union College in Lancaster to close

Avis Hendrickson, president of Atlantic Union College, told the Worcester Business Journal over the summer that the school was making progress toward regaining accreditation, but announced Wednesday that the college will close.

Atlantic Union College, a small Christian school in Lancaster struggling with finances and a lack of accreditation, will effectively close after the spring semester.

The college announced the news Wednesday, a day after telling its students, who number fewer than 50. Atlantic Union offers two majors: theology, and health science and biology.

The college's board of trustees and a committee of the Atlantic Union Conference, an affiliated supporter of the college, voted this month to stop offering bachelor's degrees after the semester ends, they said in a statement. Certificate programs will end no later than December.

The decision was the result of a feasibility study of the college's operations, the trustees and the conference said in a joint statement.

"The board of trustees, in cooperation with the Atlantic Union Conference administration, will form a plan to guide the students, faculty and staff through this transition period," the two bodies said. "This plan will provide academic options and information to the students, faculty, staff and larger Atlantic Union College family."

Atlantic Union President Avis Hendrickson told WBJ in an interview last year she wanted to grow this student body to at least 100 by fall 2017 and eventually reach more than 1,000, but that growth didn't materialize last year.

The trustees and the Atlantic Union Conference left open a possibility for some type of future for the college, saying they will conduct a study and further research how Seventh-day Adventist higher education can effectively be delivered to the young people of the Atlantic Union Conference constituency.

Atlantic Union's planned closure follows a decision to withdraw financial support for the college by a major source of funding, the Southern New England Conference. The conference, part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with which Atlantic Union is affiliated, decided last year it would instead spend the $800,000 it traditionally gave Atlantic Union to financially help for college-age members of the church.

The conference considered an appeal from Atlantic Union to change its mind, but ultimately did not budge.

Atlantic Union has been heavily reliant on church funding to make ends meet. According to its 2016 financial report, church subsidies made up nearly 90 percent of its $4.5-million income in 2015.

In a message to the college community last month, Atlantic Union indicated a lack of reliable subsidies imperiled the financial stability of the college.

Accreditation has also been an ongoing problem for Atlantic Union.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges withdrew accreditation in 2011, citing financial concerns and forcing the college's 400 students to transfer to other colleges. Atlantic Union stopped offering courses for several years but then reopened in 2015.

Though the association allowed Atlantic Union to seek accreditation again, students would have been unable to earn an accredited degree until 2019 at the earliest, and the association's president, Barbara Brittingham, said last year reaching re-accreditation would be challenging.

A majority of Atlantic Union's students are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the college reflects the church's conservative leanings. Students at the 136-year-old school are required to take a religion class and attend worship services, and are banned from wearing jewelry other than wedding or engagement rings, watches or medical bracelets. Students have a 10 p.m. curfew and live in same-sex dorms.

Atlantic Union has articulation agreements with two other Seventh-day Adventist-affiliated schools, Andrews University in Michigan and Southwestern Adventist University in Texas, that allows students to transfer credits to those schools.

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