Building a Better University

This fall, George Fox articulated three commitments in our strategic plan to help us transform our university as we seek to more effectively equip our students for exceptional life outcomes, noting that we will “do whatever it takes to create a brighter future ... for the students we serve.”

We outlined these three pillars that drive our pursuits of longevity and impact:

  1. Stay Rooted in Christ. Christ in everything. This is the foundation of everything we have done and everything we will do moving forward. We seek to graduate dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ who are called and equipped for vocational ministry in the world.
  2. Be Affordable. Addressing affordability means reducing the time it takes to complete a degree and lowering our costs while increasing value to students. A streamlined education allows students to graduate faster, which both decreases the loans they need to fund their education and accelerates their timeline to earning a salary.
  3. Get Flexible. Higher education exists for the sake of students, and that means we need to become learner-centric. We need to craft our educational experiences around the needs and desires of students and offer the modalities that serve them best.
Read the resolution from the Board of Trustees committing to staying rooted in Christ, increasing affordability, and enhancing flexibility.


This year, we have committed ourselves to addressing affordability by returning over $3 million in CARES Act and stimulus funding to students and announcing a zero percent tuition increase for traditional undergraduate students in 2021-22. We have realigned academic departments so they can partner together on streamlining the pathways to graduation. We will continue to invest in George Fox Digital to expand the footprint of our online offerings at a reduced price point.

We have committed ourselves to flexibility for students and have seen great results including the recent success of George Fox Digital: First Year Online, which was created and launched in a span of weeks. And we’ve successfully enrolled 45 students in the program’s fully remote and robust courses. That follows an increased commitment to our summer online program, a reimagining of our THEO courses, and so much more. As you’ll read below, our new general education package will be a significant driver in our streamlined pathways to graduation.

And through all of this, we have stayed rooted in our faith in Christ. Above all, it is our hope that students will experience the call of God in their lives – that they will understand their humanity by understanding the gift of his redemption, and will be equipped at George Fox to bring his light into their families, workplaces and communities. We are committed to our Be Known promise and committed to bringing the transformational power of Christ into our classrooms, our residence halls and our co-curricular spaces.

A General Education Package for the Modern Era

Infographic depicting general education. Three items: General Education, Academic Major, Vocational Fields. General Education and Academic Major are connected by a label of Faith and Character Formation. Academic Major and Vocational Fields are connected by a label Professional Competence

Perhaps the most significant change is the complete reworking of our general education (GE) package, now called The Cornerstone Core Curriculum. Beginning fall of 2021, new students will engage in a variety of academic disciplines as their character is cultivated in the Christian context through the Great Commandment: how to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, as well as love their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:37-40). These foundational courses can be delivered both in-person and online, and the Be Known promise will be a central component regardless of the modality.

Our core curriculum is rooted in the liberal arts and invites students to take 13 courses that develop the virtues of wisdom, patience, creativity, and intellectual humility among others. This streamlines efficiency while ensuring a common and Christ-centered academic foundation as students transition to coursework in their academic majors and focus on building their professional competence, where they can fulfill the Great Commission by “going into all the world” as we are called in Matthew 28.

Reducing Credits and Time to Graduation

In addition to modifying the general education graduation requirement, we are also adjusting the number of required credit hours for graduation from 126 to 120, beginning in the fall of 2021. This will offer two major benefits to our students. First, it accelerates their timeline to enter major-specific courses. And second, it accelerates the timeline to complete their degree, which offers cost savings. The graduation requirement of 120 credits is the norm nationally, and this brings us into alignment with the industry standard.

It is important to note the future is not simply about affordability. It is also about value. Across higher education, we hear parents and students express tuition price points are too high for the value they receive. Indeed, our world is increasingly focused on outcomes and value in educational settings, and the changes we outline here will enhance the learning experiences of our students in ways that will impact their lives far beyond their time in the classroom.

Academic Portfolio Changes

This past semester, all academic programs were asked to take a critical look at their offerings in order to streamline the path to graduation, improve the student experience, and eliminate unnecessary courses. Several academic departments have significantly reworked and streamlined their programs to better align student interests with industry needs.

Retired Programs

In the course of review, several programs were found to no longer be viable due to low student interest and will not enroll new students moving forward; however, those students currently enrolled will be able to graduate in these majors:

The changes to our academic portfolio and general education requirements will impact adjunct teaching assignments. We will be evaluating the full impact of staffing changes in the next few weeks and will communicate any additional changes at the time they are made.

Expanded Opportunities in Graduate Healthcare Programs

We are thrilled to formally announce the future launch of an occupational therapy graduate program in 2024 as we continue to expand our healthcare-focused graduate degrees. After careful evaluation the past few months, which included dialogue with local partners including Providence and extensive market research, we are certain this new master’s degree will address a critical need for the region and provide additional opportunities for new graduate students within our Wellness Enterprise. We are confident this program will articulate well with existing undergraduate offerings to provide a new pathway toward health professions. 

Additional program offerings, both degrees and certifications, are being assessed for future addition as we respond to the regional market and support the broader community. We are actively engaged in conversations with regional industry organizations in order to determine new partnerships to facilitate future growth. This work will solidify our position as the premier Christian university in the Pacific Northwest with the strongest commitment to high quality and diverse healthcare offerings.

Opportunities Beyond Traditional Degrees

We continue to invest in George Fox Digital and the successful ventures it has launched. Last year, faculty and staff mobilized quickly in the face of the pandemic to create a first-year option for students that is completely online and does not compromise the integrity of the academic experience or our Be Known promise. That effort demonstrated not only the collective commitment of our community to student success, but our need to be responsive to learners who want to access our offerings virtually.

The George Fox Digital: First Year Online program will persist in the year ahead, since it offers the flexibility many students are looking for and aligns with our strategic mission toward greater affordability. George Fox Digital will also continue the widely successful Summer Online Program. Both of these programs would not be successful without the engagement of many faculty and administrators across the campus, and we are grateful for their contributions to power these efforts.

This past week, we moved our Adult Degree Programs run by the School of Professional Studies from the Cultural Enterprise into George Fox Digital (except for elementary education). Our Adult Degree Programs will now move completely online, and over the next few months will add additional programs to serve adults at lower overall tuition rates than in years past. We invite your insights on this front, with particular emphasis on supporting those adults whose careers have been upended by the pandemic.

Beyond George Fox Digital, the university will also deliver the Be Known promise through new technological solutions to improve the faculty and student experience. This fall, we plan to launch a new campus mobile app that will enhance interactivity and engagement. We will also move to a more user-friendly learning management system on the Canvas platform.

All told, our digital horizon is vast and we are encouraged by the ingenuity of our staff to harness new technologies in the face of incredible change.

In Closing

 

We must and will continue to look critically at our offerings in order to meet the ever-changing needs of our students and the industry landscape they will graduate into. We made the challenging decisions to retire these academic programs while also recognizing the success they’ve had through the years and the many alumni they have equipped for professional achievement. These decisions do not dim the success of the past, but they do acknowledge that as the world changes, so will our academic offerings.

What we have outlined here is another step toward increasing the value of the educational experience for our students, and it will not be the last. Change will be the constant companion to the higher education institutions that choose to pursue longevity.

We are fortunate that George Fox is in a strong financial position and these changes – including the investment in new programs – are designed to keep us financially healthy. What will remain unchanged is our focus on our purpose – to educate and inspire students to pursue God's calling. It is our pleasure to do this important work together.

FAQ

As a university, we have committed to affordability, flexibility and staying rooted in Christ. The changes we outlined help us maintain those commitments by ensuring our academic offerings align with student interests and industry needs, and our general education package offers value to the academic journey of our students. Our new endeavors are an investment in our future.

Nearly all programs affected were small programs or majors (fewer than 30 students ) with either flat or declining enrollment trends and slim prospects that those trends would change in the future. Small majors are financially unsustainable because of their small class sizes and their absorption of faculty resources away from broader engagement in general education and co-curricular experiences. Such a system is internally unsustainable and leads to overreliance on adjuncts. 

 

Yes. We are a university with strong commitments to the liberal arts and to professional pathways. Our students are best equipped with access to both. This is on display in the following ways.

  • Our new general education package is an even deeper investment in the intention of the liberal arts -- forming the whole person -- than our existing curriculum. 
  • Our thriving honors program provides a rigorous "Great Books" curriculum.
  • We offer plentiful opportunities for co-curricular activities, including theater, choir, symphonic band, orchestra, pottery and studio art.
  • Our academic programs include liberal arts majors or concentrations in English, music, history, philosophy, theology, communication, psychology, biochemistry, biology, mathematics, cinema arts, studio art and more. Additionally, we offer minors in art history, journalism, Spanish, politics, peace studies and others.

Originally in the ancient and medieval world the liberal arts were the foundational tools necessary for citizenship in a free society. They were comprised of the language-based arts of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quantitative arts of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music).

In the past 150 years, the term “liberal arts” has come to denote both general education and the specialized disciplines that are found in general education. These specialized disciplines grew from out of the foundational skills of trivium and quadrivium and were grouped in 19th century as the natural sciences, arts & humanities, and social sciences – e.g. biology, literature, and sociology. The hallmark of the liberal arts in this modern sense of disciplinarity is that these are fields of inquiry that pursue their subject matter – knowledge and appreciation of it – primarily for its own sake apart and secondarily for its usefulness as preparation for career.

The “humanities” or “human sciences” are the language-based liberal arts subjects that have traditionally centered in the big three of History, English Literature, and Philosophy (or Religion or Theology). The “arts” (fine, performing, and visual) are also traditionally grouped with the humanities or human sciences in the modern college or university.

The change we are living through (the small changes to our campus and the larger changes of the digital revolution and pandemic) are actually minor compared to the broader cultural upheaval that we are living through. Tremors from this deeper kind of change have been experienced this year in a myriad of important ways in response to racial injustice and political process. The change is deeper still. In the midst of all the material changes in education it is easy to lose sight of the fact that education is fundamentally a soulful enterprise – it is about a culture and a generation passing along the skills, knowledge, and virtues necessary to flourish in the world to another. Such an enterprise always requires a guiding picture of what that human flourishing looks like, and some corroborating story about the world that makes the work of education intelligible. For Christians, that picture of flourishing has always been found in Jesus and Jesus’ summary of God’s instruction, the great commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. There are three things to love here: God, neighbor, and oneself in a healthy way. And the flourishing life is fundamentally a life spent in following and imitating the only truly human being, the one who was both man and God, Jesus Christ. This, and only this, is the reason we think it is important to form students as critical thinkers, creative people, quantitative problem-solvers, etc. and to be successfully prepared for professional careers. Education needs a big aim. Without one it shrivels and dies. The world of education around us is in a time of scrambling in response to the material changes but this should also be a time of deep self-examination and soul-searching. Start with the why. Why should George Fox remain a liberal arts institution? Why should George Fox continue for another 130 years? Only because we are committed to a Christian liberal arts education that helps students discover and sharpen their talents to be lifelong followers of Jesus Christ and servants in his world.

We want students to choose George Fox not only because of its promise of excellent professional preparation but also because of its promise of formation. While this reorganization includes truly painful challenges and tweaks in the near term, we are convinced that these changes will enrich and strengthen George Fox’s commitment to the Christian liberal arts in the long run. And that’s what we’re committed to – the long run. Christians have been utilizing and adapting the methods of the liberal arts for the formation and preparation of a new generation for almost 2,000 years and we are in the midst of a monumental shift in method but not mission. As our new Cornerstone Core’s vision has it, we want to continue “to cultivate whole people, adept at learning and equipped to better love God, love others, and love themselves,” until his kingdom comes.

Yes, all students who are currently majoring or minoring in one of our discontinued academic programs will be able to finish the course requirements for their degree. We will not enroll new students into the academic programs, but will equip the students already enrolled to finish.

No, students who are not currently enrolled in one of these majors will not be permitted to transfer into it.

We encourage you to reach out to your admissions counselor for next steps. We have a robust academic portfolio of majors and minors with exceptional faculty who will equip you in mind and spirit for your vocational calling. We’re confident we can find a perfect fit for you at George Fox.

By reducing the number of courses and academic complexity, we simplify and shorten the path to graduation for our students, which reduces the time they spend in the classroom before they begin earning a salary. We also anticipate saving some funds through adjunct contracts that we will be able to return to students via financial assistance throughout their college experience.

George Fox is in a strong financial position and these changes - including the investment in new programs - are designed to keep us financially healthy. These are long-range moves, not short-term quick fixes. We anticipate we will finish the 2020-21 budget year in the black thanks to budget adjustments we made in the spring.

Additionally, George Fox has one of the best “debt-to-asset ratios” in our peer group. We recently achieved the maximum score of 3.0 on the Department of Education’s financial responsibility composite scoring system. We are making these changes in pursuit of what is best for our students and in order to remain a leader among Christian colleges long into the future.

No, only students entering in fall 2021 will be required to take this set of courses. Your degree requirements are set based on the catalog of the term you were admitted. However, current students who are interested in taking the new general education courses are welcome to and they will fulfill the graduation requirements.

The George Fox Board of Trustees works with President Robin Baker to establish the priorities and broad direction for the university. Academic decisions were made by the provost, executive deans, deans and program leaders. The faculty senate participated in the decisions related to the core curriculum, program changes and total credits. The executive committee of the board reviewed and approved these decisions at their Jan. 26 meeting.