I Heard Redeemer is in Trouble
Redeemer faces current challenges with optimism for the future
8 min. read
September 21, 2015

A troubled industry

At a time of rapid secularization and declining church attendance-especially among youth-Redeemer’s Christian university education is urgently needed. In fact, its vital for preparing the next generation of these leaders, who are committed to their churches and who will reflect Christ in their communities and in the wider culture. Redeemer grads in all walks of life demonstrate the success of this mission as they make an impact for God’s kingdom

But these are challenging times for higher education. Across North America, many private and publicly funded universities are struggling to meet enrolment targets, raise funds and balance operating budgets. Some schools have resorted to steep tuition discounting, just to keep students coming in the door. Other schools have been forced to merge with larger institutions in order to stay afloat. Still other schools have simply closed. One of the most recent to do so was Florida’s Clearwater Christian College, a 4-year liberal arts college that had been granting degrees since 1966.

Redeemer is not immune to the stresses facing higher education. After enrolling 949 full-time and part-time students in 2012, enrolment this Fall at Redeemer will be just over 700 students. Since Redeemer depends heavily on tuition revenue, enrolment declines such as these have put the University in a difficult financial position.

During the 2014-15 academic year, difficult choices had to be made. In direct response to shrinking tuition revenue, nine staff and faculty were released. Such decisions, although they help bring greater financial stability, always come at an unwanted price: individuals suffer personal loss, hurt and grief, and our community as a whole grieves their loss and feels uncertain about the future.

After 20 years of stable and growing enrolment, the accreditation of degree programs and the graduation of thousands of students who are impacting their communities, navigating these choppy waters is a relatively unfamiliar challenge for Redeemer. Our communication hasn’t been as timely or informative as needed, and mistakes were made in not sharing these challenges more fully. As a result, students, alumni, supporters, community members and others have heard only that “Redeemer is in trouble,” but they aren’t sure why or what the future holds.

We want to take this opportunity to address those questions, rumours and concerns. You share in our mission and calling. It is important that we share what is happening with you. We also want you to know that Redeemer remains a vibrant, dynamic institution that is confidently moving forward to carry out our Reformed Christian mission in the changing world of higher education.

Four primary challenges face Redeemer in the current context of higher education in Ontario. The first is a significant decline in the population of university-aged people. According to Ontario government projections, between 2013 and 2021, the number of 18-20-year-olds in the province is expected to shrink by 13%. This group is the primary pool of potential new Redeemer students.

The second major challenge is broader, namely that public perception that liberal arts and science are no longer useful and simply aren’t a good investment. This widespread misunderstanding affects decision-making for high school students and often impacts the advice provided by parents and other key influencers. This perception persists even as a rash of studies and editorials in recent months—in everything from the Wall Street Journal to Forbes Magazine to the New York Times-rebutted this widely accepted myth. The evidence demonstrates that liberal arts and science grads not only have higher average incomes, they also have more fulfilling careers than the general population.

The third challenge is closely related to public perceptions about the liberal arts. Over the last few years, several community and technical colleges in Ontario have been given the authority to grant degrees in addition to diplomas. Schools like Sheridan College in Oakville have received bachelor’s level degree granting authority in a host of applied areas. Students who desire a more applied focus but also want a degree can now choose a community college rather than a university. This removes even more potential university students from an already declining demographic.

A fourth challenge is the changing nature of Redeemer’s traditional “feeder” community. Among many families that emphasized Christian education, there is now less conviction about the need for Christian educational institutions or Christian homeschooling. Redeemer’s challenge and commitment is to convict the next generation of the vital necessity of Christian education, especially at the post-secondary level.

A University you can believe in

Despite the troubled waters of higher education, Redeemer is in good position to weather the storm. Two years ago, Redeemer’s president, Dr. Hubert Krygsman, began a process that resulted in the Redeemer 2020 strategic plan. One of the main objectives of the plan is to revitalize our Reformed Christian mission to engage in teaching and research that impact all areas of life for Christ the King.

Through new initiatives in academic programming, experiential learning and research support, faculty and students will be positioned to live at the crossroads of our culture. They will generate the ideas and provide the service and leadership needed to answer the pressing questions facing our churches, our communities and our world. What does sustainable agriculture look like? What does it mean to be relational in the age of mass digital communication? What impact does the breakdown of traditional family structures have on society? What new pedagogies are required by our modern educational institutions to shape effective learning in the twenty-first century? How can a Christian perspective on social and economic issues be heard in the public square? Redeemer’s mission is centred on teaching and scholarship that engages these kinds of questions and many others.

Our alumni demonstrate the vitality of this mission and Redeemer’s ability to carry it out. Whether finding a role in not-for-profit organizations like World Vision, EduDeo or International Justice Mission, or working as lawyers, accountants or doctors, or leading and serving in homes, churches or Christian schools, wherever they do end up, Redeemer grads are a voice for hope that points to Christ and his Kingdom in this broken and hurting world.

Millennials, who make up the largest pool of potential students, are seeking more than just job training; they are looking to develop their God-given gifts and find life-giving callings. They want an education that engages them in the questions of today and prepares them to offer knowledge and insight for the questions of tomorrow. They want to have the same kind of impact that our alumni are having. The educational experience at Redeemer prepares students to make that type of impact. More than just a BA, B.Sc. or B.Ed., it is a degree supporters, parents and prospective students can believe in.

Redeemer’s compelling, transforming mission is unique in our market context: Redeemer is Ontario’s only liberal arts and sciences university that delivers BA, B.Sc. and B.Ed. programming from an integrated Christian perspective.

There is room to grow this mission even during a decline in the key demographic. Estimates indicate that only 5% of Christian students who attend a university in Ontario attend Redeemer. Why? One major reason is that brand awareness about Redeemer’s existence is generally low, even among Christians. Part of the Redeemer 2020 plan focuses on increasing that awareness. New efforts in marketing, communications infrastructure, and profile-building will share Redeemer’s story of impactful scholarship and difference-making graduates more effectively and will engage a wider audience than ever before.

Yes, times are challenging for higher education. But Redeemer is ready for the challenge. We are poised to weather the storm, and even grow in the midst of it. Our mission is too vital, and too important to stop now. With nearly 5,000 alumni leading the way, and with the continued generous support of the wider Christian community, young Christians will continue to be transformed and find their callings at Redeemer.

By Dr. David Zietsma
Vice President, Marketing and Enrolment

Liberal arts and sciences degrees are worth it…

1 Million +

New jobs created since June 2008 for university graduates, more than double the number created for college and trades graduates combined

Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, 2008-2015


Amount of income university graduates will earn over their careers compared to full-time workers without a university degree

Universities Canada, adapted from Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011


Social science and humanities grads share of the income premium for university graduates. For example, full-time workers with degrees in history earn, on average, above $65,000 annually.

Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011

…and so is Experiential Learning


Redeemer students who participated in experiential learning opportunities in 2014-15


Percentage of Redeemer’s academic programs that offer opportunities for experiential learning


Employers who say co-ops and internships add value and provide a source for future talent

Leger Marketing employer survey for Universities Canada, 2014

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