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Southern Baptist college pleads for $500K by end of 2020 to remain open

MARION, Ala. (BP) – Judson College, the only Southern Baptist women’s college in the United States, is on the brink of closure according to a letter released last week (Dec. 15) by the president of the school.

In a letter to friends of the college, Judson President Mark Tew wrote: “In order to begin the spring semester, the College must, by December 31, receive unrestricted cash donations of $500,000 and unrestricted commitments for an additional $1,000,000 in cash donations to be contributed to the College between January 1 and May 31, 2021.”

Without the year-end donations, Tew said, Judson will not be able “to meet its operational responsibilities and will be unable to begin the spring semester.” Gifts are being accepted through traditional mail or online.

In an interview with Baptist Press, Tew — who has presided over the school since March 2019 — said he is very optimistic about donor support for the school. He anticipates that the fifth-oldest women’s college in America will continue its legacy despite the ongoing financial impact “of the 2008 economic recession and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.” Tew said both events “have significantly affected Judson, as they did other institutions of higher education.”

Enrollment had declined from just over 300 in 2010 to around 200 when Tew arrived last year. However, according to Judson Board Chairwoman Joan Newman, Tew had set the school on a course correction.

Newman said things had been improving under Tew’s leadership, but the COVID-19 pandemic required the school to send students home in the spring. Then Hurricane Zeta swept through west Alabama in November. The college lost power and water, again forcing students off campus. Newman said the two events negatively impacted auxiliary revenues for the school.

“Due to the pandemic and the hurricane,” Newman said, “we don’t have the timeline we once had to correct the course. Things were improving, and now we are here.”

Financial struggles and Alabama Baptist support

Tew also told Baptist Press that the school has an endowment of “around $9 million” — a figure confirmed by Newman — and the annual expense budget of the school is “around $9 million.”

But Newman said: “We do have an endowment and resources, but based on the terms and restrictions placed on the funds, they cannot be accessed in this critical moment.”

The inability to access endowment funds was confirmed to the board by legal counsel early in December and prompted Tew’s public call for support on Dec. 15.

Tew also noted: “Alabama Baptists have been extraordinarily generous to Judson throughout the life of the college,” but increased funding from the state does not seem likely or possible.

The school is one of two educational entities that receive Cooperative Program funding from Alabama Baptists; the University of Mobile is the other. The current Alabama Baptist annual budget earmarks $1,052,192 for Judson and $2,663,238 for Mobile.

Rick Lance, state executive director for the Alabama State Board of Missions, did not respond to a request for comment. Through a spokesman, he issued a statement saying, “We at the State Board of Missions are praying for the Judson College family as its trustees deal with current financial challenges” — but declined further comment.

The importance of women’s education

Founded in 1838, Judson College is the fifth-oldest women’s college in the United States. Newman, a fifth-generation Judson graduate, said she wants to see its legacy continue.

“God has a mission for Judson College, and it is not yet complete,” Newman said. “We will work to ensure an opportunity for women’s Christian education continues in Marion.”

“Judson is the only women’s college in the Alabama, the only Southern Baptist women’s college, and the only evangelical women’s college in America,” Tew said. “Women’s education helps a young woman find her voice. At Judson, we help a young woman find her Christian voice.

“There’s no aspect of our curriculum that suppresses the truth of God. We lead our students to understand a biblically informed Christian worldview as they are prepared to be exceptional leaders in their chosen professions.”

Judson College’s campus in Marion is located 45 minutes west of Montgomery. It sits in one of Alabama’s most impoverished rural areas. Closure of the school, one of the largest employers in the area, would mean the loss of 24 faculty and a total of 76 full-time jobs.