DALLAS (BP) — Criswell College President Barry Creamer has announced the receipt of a $5 million commitment that will serve as the lead gift for the college’s first-ever residence hall, tentatively set to break ground in the spring of 2019.
“This is the most significant thing to happen since Dr. Criswell announced his vision to start this school almost 50 years ago,” Creamer said June 18. “It’s a complete game-changer not only financially, but in what it means for us going forward.”
Since his installment as president in 2014, Creamer says he has been intentional to cultivate an environment that is conducive for traditional students. One of his top priorities for creating that atmosphere has been establishing on-campus housing options.
“We have prayed for several years that God would send the right person to Criswell, then move in their heart to provide a lead gift for our first residence hall,” Creamer said. “And he did exactly that with this brand-new friend.”
The anonymous donor had no previous ties to Criswell and had never made a financial gift of any kind to the college.
“There’s no doubt it was a work of God from beginning to end,” said Michael Clayton, vice president for advancement at Criswell.
The $5 million commitment is the largest financial gift to the college in its nearly 50-year history. According to Kevin Stilley, vice president for business administration and CBO, it also follows on the heels of one of the college’s most fiscally successful periods.
“Over the last three years we have paid off all institutional debt, invested significant funds in the improvement of facilities and infrastructure, and increased our endowments by more than 30 percent,” Stilley said. “This gift continues the trend of increasing assets for the campus.”
One advantage of this gift, he said, is the ongoing financial benefit it provides to the college.
“Because the dorm will be paid for up front, the proceeds from the leases will funnel back into the college so we can continue providing stronger programming for our students rather than being forced to pay off debt from construction,” he said.
Clayton noted that a number of individuals have indicated their willingness to donate toward construction of the residence hall once a lead gift is secured.
“This will be a catalyst and motivating factor to others who have been waiting for someone else to take the lead,” he said. “It’s a message that God’s hand of favor is on the school.”
Criswell alum Gary Ledbetter said the gift has the potential to take the college to a whole new level of effective ministry.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to think that Criswell’s campus development plan is going forward,” Ledbetter said. “It’s the answer to many prayers, including my own.”
Since its founding in 1970, Criswell has primarily been a commuter college. Although partnerships have been established with Dallas Theological Seminary and neighboring apartment complexes to provide local housing options, only about 10 percent of the student body currently takes advantage of these.
Russell Marriott, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said he is excited about the impact this gift will have on current and future students.
“This gives us the ability to recruit an entirely new demographic of students and help fill out some of our newer programs, such as the B.S. in Education and the B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics,” he said. “But more importantly it allows us to attract students who traditionally wouldn’t consider Criswell, because residential housing is such a high priority for both students and parents.”
One of the challenges the school has faced in the past, he said, is parents who wanted to send their student to Criswell, but had reservations about the lack of housing options on campus.
“Criswell has an urban campus, and we get to take advantage of all the benefits that come with that,” Marriott said. “We have rigorous academic programs, a stellar faculty and a learning environment, nestled in the middle of one of the nation’s most vibrant cities. But the one downside has been the absence of residential dorms on our campus.
“We’re just excited that the Lord has provided in such a way to eliminate a significant barrier for students who want to take advantage of all we have to offer.”
Although the donor will remain anonymous throughout construction, the college has committed to naming the residence hall in their honor.
“We’re beyond grateful for this gift, and we want to bend over backwards to accommodate our donor,” Creamer said. “We look forward to the time when we can publicly acknowledge their God-honoring display of generosity.”
Clayton, who has been at the helm of the school’s capital campaign since he arrived at Criswell two years ago, said the significance is about much more than on-campus housing.
“This gift goes far beyond the ability to build a residence hall, which communicates a lot to the community and provides us an opportunity to reach students we previously weren’t able to,” he said. “It says to people that, while Criswell has a great past, it has an even greater future.”
Creamer’s prayer has been that the Lord would provide a gift that would not only be transformational for the college, but also for the donor, he said.
“The Lord answered that prayer on a scale beyond anything I could have ever expected,” he said. “We’re excited to see how God will use this gift as Criswell College continues in its mission of equipping men and women to know and love Scripture and go to the ends of the earth, in every vocation, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Criswell College is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.