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Economic climate impacts two education fund campaigns

8/19/2003 News media contact: Linda Green (615) 742-5470 Nashville, Tenn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)- United Methodist officials are finding today's economic climate challenging as they try to raise funds to increase the endowments for historically black colleges and universities of the United Methodist Church and to decrease student seminary indebtedness.

George Miller, the chief executive officer of the United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education, presented the difficulties in getting the two campaigns off the ground during the Aug. 11-16 meeting of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

"It takes a long time to give birth to big things," he said. "We are in the gestation period."

As he presented several reality checks to the board, he said the campaigns purposes, "while noble and imperative," "are not emotionally impacting," and "have no defined constituency.

The 2000 General Conference authorized the board to raise $300 million from private programs for the endowment of the 11 historically black colleges and universities related to the church and another $200 million for Seminary Student Scholarship Endowment. The United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education took the lead in the campaigns.

Since inception, Miller reported that $7,575 has been raised for the historically black colleges campaign and $2,725 for the seminary student scholarship.

He said the campaigns were "under funded" enterprises when approved by the 2000 General Conference and that before campaigns of this magnitude are launched, $5 million to $10 million is needed for advance work. He also noted the unstable financial marketplace and the foundation's inability to provide leadership gifts to the endowments, making them hard to get off the ground.

Board members voted to establish a task force to study the feasibility of conducting these campaigns.

"A study would provide the context and foundation for the two campaigns to move forward," said Wee-Li Tan, Hampstead, N.H., chair of the board's subcommittee on finance. The board recognizes that the two campaigns are vital for the church and for the work of the board and that a 6-9 month study would be "helpful in laying the groundwork and context for setting us in the direction to help get this job done in whatever way we can," he said.

The members voted for the agency to provide up to $150,000 with matching funds from the United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education to finance the work of the task force.

According to Thomas Cole, former president of Clark Atlanta University, "although we've been presented with a glaring problem, it will take intensity and focused efforts to be successful. It is doable. Raising endowment funds is difficult for anybody."

Elaine Stanovsky, Seattle, Wash., also said the campaigns are doable. "There is a passion among church people to continue to support the historically black colleges and universities and to relieve seminary indebtedness, and it can be done if we learn how to tell the story."

As the president of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie expressed awareness in the change in the financial picture of the United Methodist Church since the two resolutions were adopted by the 2000 General Conference

"We believe in the mission of the campaigns," she said. "We need a feasibility study for the purpose of saying not only what we desire but what is reasonable, and to establish a pathway for how to conduct the campaigns."

In light of the pending study, Huie said the campaigns would be much slower than was intended and may take on a different form. "A study will give us data to take to General Conference and to be candid about the changes that have occurred."

"There needs to be a lot of seeds planted before there is fruit-bearing," she said.

During the meeting, youth board members expressed concern about the scheduling and length of General Conference and other church meetings.

The youth said that although the church wants them to be included in its total life, some of its actions suggest otherwise. They pointed out that General Conference is held during exam times, making it difficult for youth delegates. They also voiced concern about the length of church board meetings, particularly those that last a week because they conflict with class attendance and jobs. The youth also challenged the board to look at the times and length of its own meetings.

On behalf of its youth members, the board voted to send a resolution to the Commission on General Conference asking that body to give consideration to conflicts between General Conference and typical academic calendars and report the findings to the 2008 General Conference.

In other actions, the board:
· Approved legislation for the 2004 General Conference;
· Learned that Heinrich Meinhardt, a board member, assisted in Africa University's receipt of $30,000 from the church in Germany and two professors from Germany will teach gratis for two years in the faculty of health sciences;
· Heard that Africa University increased its student fees from US$3,950 to US$5,200 annually;
· Learned that more than $7 million in financial assistance through scholarships and loans was provided to 4,977 United Methodist students by the end of 2002; and
· Heard that more than $2.9 million in scholarships were awarded to 2,245 students for the 2003-04 academic years.

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