Strategy is talked about in the context of leadership, business, and higher education all the time. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see something on strategy passing before my eyes. Sometimes I even read the stuff that comes into view. This address is about the strategy of Providence. What are we doing and what are we going to do to teach people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.
There is very little in the New Testament about the topic of strategy. In fact, there is probably nothing said directly on this topic which has come to play a large role in business, higher education, and the church. I’ll base my remarks on what I read in Luke and Acts. What was Jesus’ strategy? It appears that he had a plan. He selected twelve unlikely individuals to whom he was going to entrust his message. None of them were preachers when they were selected. One of them turned out to be a traitor. He trained the Twelve for a while in Galilee then he took step two in his strategy, he "Set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). On the way he told them how hard it was going to be and that they should count the cost of following him. Some of the things he said drove his followers away. When he arrived in Jerusalem he made a scene in the temple which caused him to be arrested and ultimately crucified. God raised him from the dead and he appeared to his disciples, gave them a vision to take his message to the farthest reaches of the earth, and told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them before they did anything. Interesting strategy, especially that rising from the dead thing.
Finally the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them the gifts they needed to spread the message. The Twelve started in Jerusalem. After some success their group of followers became too large, so they appointed some helpers so that they could stay with the mission of spreading the word and praying in Jerusalem. They encountered a lot of opposition which caused them to run away to other parts of the world. One of the men who persecuted them the most eventually became a Christian and he began to preach. This guy, Paul by name, made a number of trips to spread the message. Wherever he was successful in gathering a group of followers he appointed some people to lead that group, then he went to another city. Through all sorts of trouble he ended up in prison in Rome. We don’t hear about him after that although there are some guesses as to what happened to him.
So what was the strategy? Historically speaking things seemed to happen rather randomly in Acts, yet the work got done. Did anyone have any idea what they were doing? It seems so, three things strike me as being strategic. First, they committed themselves to the task of spreading the Word. They had a clear mission. A clear mission is a part of any strategy. Second, they prayed. And third, they listened to, and obeyed the voice of, and were empowered by the Spirit. If you read the scholarly literature on the book of Acts, you will discover that the elements of mission, prayer and the Spirit are central to Luke’s theology in the book of Acts. I have just couched these three elements in the language of strategy. There are other elements of strategy in Acts that are also apparent but more minor. There is Paul’s habit of taking traveling companions with him. He trained them. There is also Paul’s movement among major population centres. He went where the people were.
In the end, it seems that the strategy was rather serendipitous. The events that spread the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, from a human perspective, seem rather random. But Luke is pretty plain that God had his hand on this movement of the Word. That’s my devotional. I will come back to it at the end of this state of the institution address.
Which leads me to the strategy of Providence. I have reviewed the significant events in the life of Providence over the past 25 years, about as long as I have been here. Wow! 25 years in one place. That’s a long time, but it has given me some perspective on the Providence Strategy.
Here is a list of strategic changes that I have seen at Providence since 1990. I have left out names to protect the guilty and the innocent.
1. In the early 1990s we changed the institutional name to Providence College and Theological Seminary. This was a deliberate and strategic choice based upon the move from Winnipeg in 1971 (I’m not sure what took so long) and because of the increase in arts offerings. I am sure the choice of the name Providence was deliberate, but I don’t think we knew how well it fit our strategy—it is a providential strategy.
2. About the same time we received significant transferability to the University of Manitoba for our undergraduate courses. This was a very deliberate and strategic process of negotiating with the University. It allowed students to begin their education in a Christ-centred school and then move to a public university.
3. About 1995 or so we started the Doctor of Ministry Program in the Seminary. This was a deliberate choice to meet a need in Canada, which did not have a home grown Doctor of Ministry program with an evangelical perspective at the time.
4. In 1998 and 1999 we received a significant increase in government funding. This was a huge benefit. Personally speaking, I am not sure if I could have continued to work at Providence with the salary I was then getting while trying to raise three children. Most of the increase in our government grant went to an increase in compensation for all staff and faculty.
5. Beginning in 1998 there was major growth in both undergraduate and graduate enrollment that lasted for about five years, peaking in 2002. Those were the good old days. Our total enrollment grew to around 750.
6. In the midst of this enrollment growth we moved into the Loewen Learning Resource Centre in 2000, debt free. This was a significant and much needed addition to the campus and enhanced the student experience greatly.
7. About the same time the Seminary began an extension campus in Calgary to offer our counselling degree program. Counselling is our largest program between Calgary and Otterburne with about 90 students this fall. In Calgary we began with one school which closed, so we linked up with another school.
8. Over the next eleven years we had a significant decline in enrolment. We hit a low point in 2011 with a total student body in the neighbourhood of 450. This was definitely not a part of our strategy and we did not see it coming.
9. In 2006 we began the Buller Centre for Business which helped us grow the business program to be the largest program in the University College. The business program has just over 40 majors this fall.
10. In 2009 we opened the Reimer Student Life Centre. It greatly enhanced student experience and allowed us to host more events on campus like graduation. The inclusion of geothermal heating and cooling was a major step in the Providence campus becoming the greenest campus in Manitoba.
11. In about 2010 our undergraduate degrees began to be accepted for education and graduate school at the University of Manitoba. Students are taking advantage of this more and more each year.
12. In recent years, the Seminary has moved significantly toward full distance education programs. A majority of Seminary courses are now offered online sometime within a three-year cycle.
13. In 2011 with the legislation by the provincial government we have added University to the name of our undergraduate school, Providence University College.
14. In 2012 we incorporated a biomass boiler into our heating systems furthering our "green campus" initiatives.
15. In 2012 we added merit scholarships and residence bursaries to attract and retain more students. The increase in students on campus has enhanced the overall campus experience.
16. Beginning in 2012 we have had enrollment increases for three years in a row.
17. This year we began the Mile 2 Discipleship School with nine students.
So what has been the strategy? We have certainly made some strategic decisions along the way. Most of those decisions were independent from each other. They seemed like the right decision at the time. But in many ways we have been like the church in Acts. It seems that the Holy Spirit has compelled us to take steps, which have not been a part of a large over-arching plan that we have devised. It appears that we have been moving in a direction, but it has been at the behest of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit has a plan for Providence that is being revealed to us as we take each individual step. Like the church in Acts we are committed to carry on this mission. Many people have prayed. And we have taken steps that seem good to us as we have walked in the Spirit.
So where are we today?
Stan Hamm and Cameron McKenzie are going to give you brief updates on the Seminary and the University College. Jeff Banman will update you on Mile 2. Then John Laugesen will review the annual financial statement for last year.
Overall, I can tell you that there remains a positive spirit on campus. The energy on a campus of young people is amazing. I have the best job in the world.
Financially we have a balanced operating budget for this year. With your prayers and help we will follow this budget both on the expense and the revenue side of the ledger. Our scholarship fund is not balanced. Since we instituted the new merit scholarship and residence bursary programs we have had significant deficits. We can only overcome this, this year, by a large increase in donations. We are at present conducting a thorough review of our scholarship program to try to balance the budget next year.
We have excess capacity. This is bad news on the one hand because it means that we are paying for things that don’t return their full value to us. But this is also good news, because it means we have room to grow our enrollment. And that is our goal.
So what is the plan?
First, Providence is a great school, so what prevents people from coming here? Two things: First people don’t know about us. So our plan is to get the word out, to do a better job at spreading the Providence story and to do a better job at showing people how Providence can help them achieve their life goals. Second, our curriculum is not complete. Students are looking for programs that we don’t yet have. We talk to students who want to enter the medical field or government service, or they want teach math and science. Currently we don’t have programs that will attract and keep these students, so our plan is to do our research and then add programs that will equip students to pursue their dreams.
A second part of our plan to attract and retain students is to enhance the student experience on campus and in distance education. We have begun to renovate our student residences. This will continue. We also want to continue to provide more leadership opportunities for students through performing arts, athletics, internships, and student development, while adding more cross-cultural experiences. We want to improve and expand our distance education offerings to make a Providence education more accessible.
A third and important part of our plan is to make Providence a better place to work. Our employees are our greatest asset in the fulfillment of our mission. We want to enhance their lives through better compensation and great working conditions. As we make Providence a great place to work our students will be served even better.
So how are we going to accomplish these three goals of attracting more students, enhancing student experience, and making Providence a great place to work?
In October the Board approved two initiatives. First, we have contracted with a firm to help us focus our story and to help us speak the language to tell that story. This is an exciting prospect which we have never done before. This project is under the leadership of Cherry Wiebe, our Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications.
Second, we have initiated a study to determine our readiness to conduct a major funding campaign. This funding campaign will provide the investments that will make our three goals a reality. At this meeting next year, you will hear some great stories about how Providence is moving ahead to make the world a better place through the spread of the gospel in word and deed. Irma McKenzie, Associate Vice President for Development is spearheading this initiative.
Now back to the strategy of the church in Acts. The church, and Paul in particular, had a strategy of training people by taking them with him to the major cities of the Mediterranean world. Our strategy is similar. We will walk along students as they learn and grow.
At the end of the day, our overall strategy is the same as in the book of Acts and it is the same as we have had for the last 25 years. We will be committed to our mission to teach people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service, we will pray, and we will listen to and obey what we think the Spirit is telling us to do.