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A Communication from the Michigan District for Michigan District Congregations, their Members, and Other Supporters of Concordia University Ann Arbor7 min read

Over the last three and a half months there has been much conversation about the future of Concordia Wisconsin/Ann Arbor (CUWAA), specifically the future of Concordia University Ann Arbor (CUAA). Concerns have been raised about the financial position of both campuses. Many have spent countless hours talking, meeting, praying, and thinking about the situation.

Ultimately, decisions about the future of CUAA rest in the hands of the Board of Regents. On May 31, 2024, the Regents will receive a report from a committee established to consider a path for CUAA toward autonomy (meaning it would be separate from CUW but still under the Concordia University System). The Regents will meet again on Thursday, June 6, 2024. At present, it is unclear what, if any, action they will take relative to CUAA.

The Michigan District, while not responsible for the decisions of CUWAA, certainly has a vested interest in the future of CUAA. The District counts the ministry and presence of CUAA as a key part of life together in Michigan. Beginning in 1962, the District, congregations, members, and students have invested much. The District is very grateful that, in a time of extremis, CUW stepped in and took over the ministry. That action has led to a dramatic increase in the expansion of the ministry of Lutheran Christian higher education. The Michigan District wants to do all it can to encourage the continuation of CUAA as materially the same—a flourishing campus where young people grow in body, mind, and spirit. The District, specifically through its President, Board of Directors, and donors, has sought to speak into the situation, bringing its perspective regarding realities and opportunities for CUAA.

CUWAA is a key part of the life of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Some have called our Concordias the crown jewels of the Synod. No one wants to see another Concordia diminish in any way. Certainly, it is the perspective of the Michigan District that, in the spirit of Psalm 133, we do all we can together so that both CUW and CUAA thrive.

The purpose of this letter is to communicate to the Michigan District and other supporters the latest information regarding CUWAA and, in particular, CUAA.

Background

  • A new president accepted the call to CUWAA November 7, 2022 and began work January 9, 2023. During 2023, he built his administrative team, including a new chief of staff and an interim CFO.
  • New members were added to the Board of Regents following the 2023 Synod Convention. A new executive committee was elected.
  • At its November 9, 2023 meeting, the Board of Regents and the Foundation Board were presented with a Campus Master Plan and Strategy Map. These provided a look at enhancements at both CUW and CUAA and an exciting picture of the future.
  • During December and January, conversation emerged about three options for CUAA: move forward under CUW according to the Campus Master Plan, become a micro campus, or be spun off as independent. Michigan District leaders were involved in the conversation. We strongly supported the first option, were encouraged to investigate the third option, but found the middle option not acceptable given the present trajectory of CUAA.
  • Regents received a report entitled Financial Health Check from CFO Colleagues February 1, 2024.
  • On the basis of that report, when the Regents met on February 8, 2024, they resolved among other things to produce a comprehensive plan to significantly reduce the operation of the campus in Ann Arbor by June 30, 2024, which would include the disposition of property, facilities, equipment, and the like.
  • On February 13, 2024, an email went out to students announcing this direction and giving them information on how to transfer to other schools. The administration later apologized for that email. That communication caused widespread shock, fear, hurt, uncertainty, and anger amongst faculty, staff, and especially among students. Parents received an email two days later.
  • Because it had been presented that CUAA would lose $5,000,000 in operation expenses, the Michigan District, after informing LCMS leaders, began a campaign to raise that amount with the hope that the school would remain open materially the same in 2024–2025 and that the Regents would have an opportunity to examine more carefully a plan for CUAA to remain a flourishing campus.
  • In 9 days, approximately 1,500 giving units pledged $3,700,000 for the effort. This money would be given to the Michigan District and the District’s Board of Directors would steward the money relative to developments in the ever-changing situation with CUAA.
  • At its February 29, 2024 meeting, the Regents resolved to keep the school open for the 2024–2025 academic year and to establish a committee to examine the feasibility of CUAA becoming autonomous. That committee is finalizing its report now.

A Case for Concordia University Ann Arbor

  • In the 2023–2024 academic year, Concordia Ann Abor had an enrollment of over 1,300 students. This was a record for the campus and bucked the trends of other similar schools (up 30% since 2015).
  • CUAA trains a wide variety of students for full-time church work and intentional Christian vocation with fidelity to Jesus and his Word (norma normans) in accord with the Lutheran Confessions (norma normata).
  • Many students either come to faith in Christ or have their faith strengthened while on campus. In recent years the campus has seen dozens of baptisms.
  • The campus is seeing fruition from the last 10 years of money, energy, and prayers invested from all associated with CUWAA. While it is past the 10-year mark of when it was predicted that CUAA would be self-sustaining, new programs coming on board will positively impact the operational deficit.
  • Most students will not travel more than 100 miles for college. If CUAA is drastically reduced in its offerings, many students who otherwise would have benefited from a Lutheran, Christian education will not.
  • While CUAA experiences a loss relative to operations, this is true of all of our Concordias.
  • District leaders who have reviewed financial information provided by CUWAA concluded that, while there are financial realities that need to be addressed, they have not seen a need for a drastic, immediate change in CUAA’s direction. Their assessment is:
  1. CUWAA’s financial standing is actually very sound.
  2. CUAA’s projected shortfall can be managed as it moves toward autonomy.
  3. CUW is unlikely to realize significant gains from closure or radical cuts, given the compliance and reputational issues, and other factors.
  • Ten schools of similar size that have closed in the last ten years all had been experiencing significant decline in enrollment. CUAA has seen an increase.
  • The U.S. Education Department annually calculates the overall financial health of private institutions participating in federal student aid programs based on audited financial statements. The scores range from -1.0 to 3.0, with schools scored 1.5 or higher considered financially responsible. Concordia’s most recent score from 2020–21 was 3.0.

Sticking Points

  • We acknowledge that there are financial realities that need to be addressed. We acknowledge the data from CFO Colleagues and with them see that now is a time to give great attention to the situation and craft a multi-year plan to move forward in a financially sustainable way—for both campuses.
  • We acknowledge that expansion of the sports program has enlarged the campus while, at the same time, brought additional expense to the operating budget. Adjustments must be made over time.
  • Questions have been raised about the size of the endowment and how it is or is not used to support operational expenses.
  • Some people believe that CUAA would not be able to meet newly adopted Lutheran Identity and Mission Outcome Standards.
  • Bringing the two campuses together was difficult. Separating will be even more so.

A Way Forward

The Michigan District assembled a network of people who are committed to the ministry of CUAA. Through conversations and prayers, a Roadmap to Autonomy has been developed and already shared with leaders at CUWAA for their consideration. Such a proposal was requested by the chairman of the Board of Regents.

We in the Michigan District are grateful for the great work and investment that has grown out of Concordia Wisconsin’s leadership with CUAA over the last 10 years. We believe God is able to guide us in a way forward. We pray that CUWAA Regents/administrators, faculty/staff/students at both campuses, leaders throughout the LCMS, the various Districts associated with CUWAA, and supporters around the Synod can by God’s grace work together to develop two self-sustaining campuses of Lutheran higher education that exemplify the blessings of Psalm 133 and extend the mission of Jesus.

Rev. David A. Davis                        Dr. Stephen R. Boergert
President                                          Chairman
Michigan District, LCMS                    Michigan District Board of Directors

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About the Author

This blog is published by the Communications Department of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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Rita Gohl - May 30, 2024

Thank you!!!

Rita Gohl
Class of 1983

Diane Beaverson Schroeder - May 30, 2024

Thank you so much for this factual and much needed information.

Jeffrey Shanks - May 31, 2024

Thank you for this incredibly informative article which truly keeps things in perspective. Although an emotional topic, this article steers clear of this temptation and presents the realities in a way which helps us who are several states separated from both Michigan and Wisconsin gain a better understanding. Yes, there needs to be changes to make these two vital campuses thrive. No, we can’t afford to take the easy way out. Thank you for leading the way in keeping us focused on the mission of sharing Christ and raising up a new generation of those who know Him.

MaryBeth Jackson - May 31, 2024

THANK YOU! 🙂 May the name of Christ be radiated through all of these dealings and hearts stay sensitive to the call and counsel of the Holy Spirit.

Jim Wonnacott - May 31, 2024

Thank you for your prayerful deliberation and support. CUAA provides access to many throughout the great lakes region, Ohio valley and parts east, west and south from there. A city on a hill! Jim Wonnacott classes 76 and 78.

Rev John Hohe - June 1, 2024

I appreciate the tone and content and the desire to move at a deliberate pace . Thank you President Davis.

Judi Partlo - June 1, 2024

Thank you very much for this thoughtful insight and update.

RICHARD Schultz - June 4, 2024

We pray that it’s God’s will to keep Concordia, Ann Arbor open, also that God’s word is being taught according to our Lutheran Church, Mo. Synod. Thank you for this writing, and for this information!
Sincerely,
Richard and Judy Schultz
ps; We were at CUAA in 1962, for the opening service. Can’t remember if it was Ground breaking, or Dedication!

ARdis Janke - June 4, 2024

Please continue the good. Please adddresss the fact tha PR has to be increased through Synod especially our high schools and grade schools. Our high school in Cleveland works with St. Paul but has little contact from either college closer by. Why.

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