No student, professor, or alumnus of The King’s College wants May to mark the financial ruin of the respected Christian liberal arts school in New York City.
But the 85-year-old school will need a miracle to keep its doors open after several years of New York’s COVID-19 restrictions, decreased enrollment, and questionable business calls.
The city’s only evangelical Christian college received a $2 million loan at the beginning of March to sustain it through commencement May 6, but the college hasn’t secured the necessary funds to open again in the fall.
Students and alumni told The Daily Signal that they doubt the college can open without a successful merger with another school.
Brent Buterbaugh, 23, who graduated last May from The King’s College, says he suspects that insufficient donations explain the college’s revenue troubles.
“My sense is that the main turnoff to donors is there’s no sense of direction,” Buterbaugh told The Daily Signal.
Buterbaugh, a member of the Alumni Executive Committee, said past graduates are hesitant to donate to a school that soon may not exist.
The King’s College hired an interim president in August 2022 who wasn’t known to alumni, and Primacorp Ventures Inc., the Canadian investment company that absorbed the college in spring 2021, appears widely distrusted among students and alumni.
Primacorp Ventures has invested in over 40 Canadian colleges. In 2020, the company took control of 15-year-old Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia, which is slated to close in April after the company’s plans to draw online students failed.
“Absolutely no one trusts [Primacorp],” Buterbaugh says. “And they, especially over the last couple of weeks, have made it very clear they don’t really care about us either.”
‘Enormous Effect’ of COVID-19 Restrictions
Primacorp CEO Peter Chung provided a $2 million loan allowing the college to finish the semester, according to a March 3 announcement from the college. But the campus newspaper, The Empire State Tribune, reported that sources said Primacorp will pull out of King’s despite the company’s representation on the Board of Trustees.
One of Chung’s appointees, board Chairman Stockwell Day, was named interim president in August 2022 after President Tim Gibson’s sudden resignation. Day told The Empire State Tribune that his consultancy firm did work for Primacorp in the past.
Primacorp’s investments helped King’s stay open after admissions rates drastically declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Buterbaugh, who worked in the admissions office throughout his four years at King’s, says students need to see and experience the college to understand what it offers. He says New York City mask mandates, as well as vaccine, contact tracing, and quarantine requirements, deterred prospective students from touring and enrolling in King’s.
Although King’s didn’t institute a vaccine mandate, New York City barred unvaccinated people from entering restaurants or other public areas from August 2021 through March 2022. From summer 2020 to spring 2021, anyone who visited the state of New York had to quarantine for 14 days.
“That had an enormous effect on admissions, and consequently revenue,” Buterbaugh says.
The number of students has dropped from more than 500 students in fall 2019 to fewer than 250 today.
Donors say they want to support King’s, but they are concerned about where their money will go if there is a merger with another school, Buterbaugh says.
The King’s College is considering affiliating with other colleges, King’s communications director Katelyn Tamm told The Daily Signal.
“We are engaging potential donors of every size and are having serious conversations with other educational institutions about potential affiliations,” Tamm says.
A Light in New York City
King’s never has permanently invested in a major gifts officer or a development department, Buterbaugh says. When the college stopped receiving donations from billionaire philanthropists Richard and Helen DeVos after their deaths, he says, administrators at King’s didn’t plan to compensate for the loss.
“When Primacorp was brought in, one of the things they were supposed to do was operate a development department, and so now we’re at a point where we have zero people doing fundraising,” Buterbaugh says. “Any fundraising that is happening is because of other people stepping in.”
Buterbaugh says he suspects the desire to make money disincentivized the for-profit company from building a development department. According to a publicly available 2021 audit report, Primacorp received 15% of net on-campus tuition.
“To me, the probable explanation is that there was less incentive for them to invest in development since it provided no direct benefit to them in the same way admissions and marketing did,” Buterbaugh says.
Primacorp Ventures didn’t respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment for this report.
A merger is the only way King’s can keep its doors open, Buterbaugh says. He says he hopes the terms of such a merger will allow the college to keep its mission, statement of faith, and house system. (Each freshman is placed into one of 10 houses named after a conservative or Christian hero.)
“I think it’s likely that one of these mergers will probably work,” Buterbaugh says. “My concern, though, is if there’s one that involves us no longer being in New York, or moving and by extension relocating somewhere else, I think that that is losing a key component of what King’s is.”
Situated on three levels of a 19-floor building in New York City’s Financial District, The King’s College reminds senior Ally Huizenga of Romans 12:2: “Be in the world, but not of the world.”
The college provides students with a “close-knit community in a big city,” Huizenga, 22, says.
“It’s so important that we as Christians are going to the places that need light and God’s word the most,” she says.
‘Opening My World Up’
Huizenga says her heart breaks for freshmen who just arrived at King’s and juniors who had one year left and must figure out where to transfer for their senior year.
“Especially a place that transformed me for four years and really impacted the person I am today, to know how amazing of a place it is, and then to know that other people might not be able to experience, that is really sad,” she says.
Matthew Peterson, a 19-year-old freshman at King’s, says he plans to work on transfer applications soon, though he wants to continue at King’s if the college stays open.
“I think if there was a merger, and I didn’t have any qualms about the other school, I would be very confident in that being a good thing, as long as King’s stays King’s as much as possible,” Peterson says.
A proud member of the house named for theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Peterson says his favorite thing about King’s is the people.
“I felt so immediately welcomed,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I had to earn a place in the house ever. I was just immediately accepted. People ask questions, and they care about you, and they check on you.”
If forced to leave King’s, Peterson says, his biggest takeaway will be how to accept the different ways Christians live out their faith.
“It’s been just opening my world up to all the different ways that we can uniquely but effectively serve,” he says.
‘A Lonely Outpost’
Robert Carle, professor of religious and theological studies at King’s, says the school is one of the few remaining American colleges that teaches the classical and Christian intellectual traditions.
“Manhattan is the most secular city in the world, and Manhattan is the most influential place in the world,” Carle told The Daily Signal. “It is essential that we have students with biblical and classical training in places of influence in Manhattan.”
Josh Craddock, a 2013 alumnus, says the liberal arts curriculum at King’s is an asset in New York.
“King’s taught me how to read and absorb the ideas that shaped Western civilization and instilled a love for that tradition,” Craddock, 31, told The Daily Signal. “Now, 10 years later, I’ve continued on the path of lifelong learning begun at King’s by continuing to read and consider the best that has been thought and said.”
“The King’s College is a lonely outpost for Christianity and conservatism in the city, so its ability to affect culture there has importance nationwide for that reason,” he adds.
Although the college has made mistakes in business planning, Buterbaugh says, running a college in New York with today’s costs is difficult.
“It’s an institution that is certainly not perfect, and clearly has not had perfect judgment about who it does business with,” Buterbaugh says, “but I think that it’s definitely a place that does a lot of great good for Christian higher education in the country as a whole, and it’s a huge loss to lose it.”
Huizenga says students have been joking about the closing of The King’s College since she was a freshman.
“I trust that God’s going to do what he wants to do with the school,” Huizenga says. “But at the same time, it’s hard to look at our financial standing and then also not be looking at practical ways to fix this or make sure we can at least stay open for the rest of the semester.”
‘Praying for a Miracle’
Kimberly Reeve, dean of academic affairs at King’s, told the student body Feb. 27 that the school is building transfer plans with seven other private colleges, six of which are Christian. Many of the transfer options will try to reciprocate the scholarship funding students receive at King’s.
King’s is encouraging students to submit transfer applications, and professors say they’re looking for new jobs, Huizenga says.
But many students don’t want to transfer, according to Buterbaugh, who says he remained in New York after graduating and meets with students often.
“I talked to a lot of students who are like, ‘I’m putting my applications in, but I’m desperately praying for a miracle here because I would love to see King’s make it through,’ as the vast majority of people who are transferring are doing so in spite of what they would want to do, and just sort of do as a fallback in case nothing happens,” Buterbaugh says.
Ava Van Hala, an 18-year-old freshman, says she is submitting transfer applications in hopes they are a “waste of time.
“King’s sort of feels like a second home, and it feels like that’s being kind of taken away,” Van Hala told The Daily Signal.
Eviction notices under Huizenga’s door at her on-campus apartment alerted her to the college’s financial plight. Most of the statements cited between $9,000 and $10,000 as the rent due on each apartment, the Empire State Tribune reported.
“We keep getting letters under our door or in the mail with these 14-day notices,” Huizenga says. “We’re getting notices that King’s hasn’t paid for our housing, even though we have paid our housing to King’s. It’s like they’re clearly using the money in other ways.”
King’s has promised that students won’t get evicted, and Huizenga says that she trusts the school. The recent $2 million loan from Primacorp’s Chung doesn’t cover overdue rent for on-campus housing, sources confirmed to student journalists.
King’s told students in a school community update Monday that the college is catching up on rent payments, Peterson, the freshman student says.
A King’s education is too tied to the in-person experience to be modified into an online learning program, which was Primacorp’s vision for the college’s financial growth, Buterbaugh says.
“They [Primacorp] had all these grandiose schemes about creating an online college and online degree program like Liberty or Grand Canyon University that would get thousands of students,” he says.
Primacorp would collect 95% of online enrollment revenue, leaving only 5% for the college, a source told Inside Higher Ed.
No online programs remain at King’s. Someone who worked on the online initiative told Inside Higher Ed that the expected enrollment never materialized, reaching only about 150 students in the first year.
“I don’t think that the rigorous education of King’s is ever going to be compatible or ever going to be serviceable as a good online education, because I generally tend to think that most people who are looking for online education are looking for an affordable option,” Buterbaugh says. “King’s is never going to be as rigorously academic as it is and [be] the most affordable option.”
What The King’s College needs now is a partnership and money, Peterson speculates.
“I definitely don’t think the administration is totally to blame for where we are, and I also don’t believe that the administration is totally the solution for how we continue to do what we do,” the freshman says.
Craddock, who attended Harvard Law School after graduating from King’s, says he thinks King’s could acquire the necessary donors if it restored its original mission.
“It’s essential for King’s to recommit itself to attracting and producing students who are both Christian and conservative,” Craddock says. “If it does that, then the donors who are most aligned with the college’s mission will be more motivated to save the college in its plight.”
Although some students have responded to the financial crisis with anger toward the college’s administrators, Huizenga says that sadness is her primary reaction to the potential closing of King’s.
“I fully believe the school and the faculty [do have] the school’s best interests at heart,” the senior says. “I don’t think anyone wants the school to shut down.”
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