Interview: ABHE Executive Director on Stepping Down, Future Plans

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The Association for Biblical Higher Education’s (ABHE) executive director for the past five-and-a-half years announced last month that he would step down from the position and assume the role as president of Simpson University in Redding, Calif., this fall.

Just weeks away from the coast to coast move, Larry J. McKinney spoke to The Christian Post on July 3 about his time at ABHE, his decision for a career change, and his future hopes at the Christian university.

CP: In your opinion, what is your greatest or proudest achievement as ABHE’s executive director in the past five and a half years?

McKinney: We have been able to expand our scope of accreditation as well as our services and this has resulted in a rather significant growth in a number of institutions that are part of the association either through accreditation or affiliation.

In terms of expanding our scope of accreditation, we are now able to serve schools through undergraduate and graduate level accreditation. As a result, not only were we able to serve many of our existing schools that have graduate education but also in expanding a number of institutions that were not part of the association previously.

Furthermore, about three years ago we added a new designation; it is called an affiliate status. It is a non-accreditation designation but it enables schools to relate to us in terms of using our programs and services although perhaps not being accredited. The new designation also expanded the number of institutions that we serve as well.

Currently, there are198 institutions that relate to our association either through accreditation or affiliation.

CP: In your capacity as executive director, what did you try to do to help Christian colleges have a smoother and quicker accreditation process?

McKinney: About three years ago, we approved a new comprehensive standard with a stronger emphasis on quality assurance and student learning outcomes. The result is that schools now go through the accreditation process whether it is for initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation.

I believe it really focuses in on what are the critical issues in terms of quality biblical higher education. The new standards are not as prescriptive; they are much more qualitative and also allow institutions a bit more creativity and a bit more flexibility in terms of how they relate to our association. So there has been a high degree of enthusiasm from our member schools in terms of the new comprehensive standards we have.

CP: The role of an executive director is an important position in any organization. How did ABHE members receive the news that you would leave the position and move across the country to become president of Simpson University? Were they shocked?

McKinney: I think some were but I had been the president of a college and seminary previously and so I don’t think returning to that type of position came as a complete shock to people within the association. People have been very affirming and have expressed a great deal of appreciation for my leadership and certainly it has been a time of change and growth for the association.

I think people have understood my desire to return to what you would called a campus-based ministry as opposed to working with a higher education agency like the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

I also think my gifts and abilities are more ideally suited for being the president or the CEO of a university than possibly even the CEO of accrediting agency.

CP: Why at this time did you decide to make this career transition?

McKinney: First of all, I was approached by the search committee of Simpson University to consider being a candidate. It is not that I had sought them out; it is not that I had sent out a resume but rather they contacted me. As we began to communicate back and forth and as they sent me information, my interest increased. The more I examined the opportunity, thought about my abilities, my experiences, my passion and my call, the more I realized it would be a good fit. So it was about a four-month process of communication, exchange of information and interviews before the appointment actually took place.

Furthermore, in terms of timing, some of the major changes I mentioned to you with respect to ABHE – new standards, expanded scope of accreditation, schools being able to relate to us through the affiliate designation – every one of those initiatives are now in place and are operating effectively.

So I thought the timing for leaving the association was appropriate. For example, if this opportunity had come up a couple of years earlier I think it would have been difficult for me to leave. It would have been premature; I would have departed in the middle of these changes being implemented. But I felt that now there is a window of opportunity to exit and move into a new ministry and not put the association in any kind of a precarious position.

Timing is everything when it comes to discerning God’s direction in our lives.

CP: What would you like to say or what piece of advice would you like to give to the new executive director?

McKinney: My advice would be to have a strong commitment to advancing and assuring quality biblical higher education and that, I believe, is a continued commitment or understanding. But also to look for ways to serve a variety of different institutions, and when I say different types of institutions I mean location, size, educational scope, and delivery system.

Even in terms of theological orientation, although we do a pretty good job in that regards, serving schools from a variety of different evangelical theological background.

Also, it is very, very important continue to look for ways to serve a growing number of ethnic minority schools. Just as the demographics in the United States and Canada are changing significantly with respect to race and ethnicity, the same thing is happening within the Church and is also taking place in Christian higher education.

CP: In your upcoming position as president of Simpson University, what are your goals and what do you hope to accomplish?

McKinney: One of my goals would certainly be to maintain the mission and the core values of the institution. It has a very rich history and has done a terrific job in terms of not only serving the Church but also serving the larger community. In fact, their motto is a “Gateway to World Service” and I certainly want to see that continued.

But having said that – which I think is a foregone conclusion – my goals also includes expanding enrollment not only with traditional undergraduate education but with graduate education and in a non-traditional delivery system. Also to see an increase in terms of ethnic diversity on campus, create a higher degree of financial stability, and to continue to see the curriculum expand to serve the student body more effectively.