The King’s College makes deep cuts to faculty, cancels fall classes

Operating on thin margins and depending on deep-pocketed conservative Christian donors, the school has been in turmoil since a partnership with a Canadian education investment company, Primacorp Ventures, failed to change its fortunes.

The King's College is located in Manhattan's financial district in New York City. Image courtesy Google Maps

(RNS) — The last remaining evangelical Christian college in New York City, The King’s College, announced Monday (July 17) in an email that the school, which has faced dire financial challenges, would not offer classes in the fall. In an earlier meeting with faculty and staff it was announced that many teaching contracts would not renew or were canceled.

“This decision comes after months of diligently exploring numerous avenues to enable the College to continue its mission,” read the email, which was addressed to “members of the King’s community” and signed by the Board of Trustees. “In connection with this decision,” it continued, “it is with regret we share that our faculty and staff positions will be reduced or eliminated.

A faculty member who attended the Monday afternoon meeting said the mood in the room was sober, but that because the layoffs and severance terms were communicated “clearly and concisely,” those affected expressed “deep appreciation.”

It was unclear how many faculty members, if any, were retained, though several contacted by Religion News Service said they still had their jobs as of Monday afternoon. “We will continue to provide additional updates over the days and weeks ahead as more information becomes available,” said the board’s email.

The school has endured months of public financial woes that caused the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to terminate the Christian college’s accreditation in May. Since January, King’s has kept students, staff and faculty on edge, asking for prayer as officials sought $2.6 million to keep the school open. A fundraiser fell short by more than $1 million.

King’s is currently appealing its accreditation status with MSCHE, and is accredited as that process plays out, but the ruling will depend on showing the institution is financially viable with students actively enrolled. 

Throughout the spring semester, staff and faculty helped students transfer to a handful of colleges, from St. John’s University in Queens to some as far away as Providence Christian College in California. However, many students have said they would remain at King’s if it opens in the fall.

Though it has never boasted more than 1,000 students in its 85-years of existence, King’s rose to become a top conservative liberal arts school, often compared to Hillsdale College, another small but influential conservative school, even as many King’s students and faculty fought political labels.

Operating on thin margins and depending on big donors like Richard and Helen Devos, the school community has been in turmoil since a partnership with a Canadian education investment company, Primacorp Ventures, failed to change its fortunes. In April 2021, King’s agreed to let Primacorp take over fundraising, marketing and admissions in exchange for 95% of the tuition from online students and four of nine board seats. But despite lofty promises, the company never boosted enrollment, and layoffs followed in fall 2022.

Primacorp fully exited the partnership in April, allowing King’s to bring on eight new board members, comprising two former board members, Andy Mills and John Beckett, two parents and four alumni.

The board said in its email that it “is committed to continuing their efforts to pursue strategic alliance opportunities.”

A flicker of hope came on May 31, when the board said in a statement that it was in “advanced discussions” with an unnamed Christian university for “an educational and operational partnership” to remain open in New York City for the 2023-2024 academic year and beyond. But since then, the community has awaited an announcement about whether the college will close or not, receiving only breadcrumbs until the faculty layoff announcement.

Dru Johnson, a professor of Biblical literature, theology and interpretation for 12 years at King’s, said he went into the meeting Monday “straight up 50/50.”

“I would not have been surprised if they said, ‘Hey we found a way we’re going to do it next semester, we’re going to pull it off.’ Or, you know, if they said, ‘we’re shutting down the entire school, this is your last day, you need to get everything out today.’”

Johnson said since March he has acted as if the school is closing and secured a one-year teaching position at Hope College in Michigan even as his three oldest children, one not yet graduated from high school, stay in the New York area.

“Most of us moved to this region to take this job, a lot of (us) with families that required significant sacrifice,” Johnson said. “So it was just a roller coaster. I decided to step out of the roller coaster early on … but a lot of people did not do that. And so every time another message came from the board saying we’re in discussions but we’re going to keep talking — that was really, really emotionally painful for them. Because their whole family was invested.”

The other Protestant schools with roots in New York City were Concordia, which was affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and closed in 2021, and Alliance University, once Nyack College, which recently announced it will close at the end of August. Alliance was notified in June that its accreditation would be withdrawn by the end of 2023. The 140-year-old institution primarily served Black, Hispanic and Asian students of the evangelical denomination Christian and Missionary Alliance. Its campus in Manhattan’s financial district is just a few blocks from The King’s College.

This article has been corrected. An earlier version misstated the amount of money generated by a fundraiser intended to cover The King’s College’s shortfall. Religion News Service regrets the error. It has also been updated to clarify the school’s accreditation status.

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