92-year-old Bethany University shutting down

(David Louie/ABC7)
June 15, 2011 8:22:07 PM PDT
Christine Contreras admits she has been crying a lot. She's a junior at Bethany University in Scotts Valley, but come fall, she has no idea where she will be attending her senior year. That's because the 92-year-old Christian school is closing. Enrollment has been falling, putting stress on the school's finances.

"It was a heartache the first time I heard it; I did cry, but, oh, I cried a lot, I still cry," Contreras said.

Contreras is studying pastoral church leadership, hoping some day to serve the needs of the inner city poor. She had hoped to follow in the footsteps of many distinguished alumni who are working today as pastors or missionaries or even as business leaders, all focused on helping others. Now she is one in need, but she says she has faith that she will find another school who will accept her as a last-minute transfer student.

Debbie Howard, the administrative assistant to Bethany's president, says no one at the university will grant interviews. Up to a week ago, a group of private investors had been negotiating with Bethany's leadership to take over the school. However, it appears that deal has collapsed. The word of the school's closure has spread quickly on Facebook and in other social media.

Bethany had about 400 students this past year, down from a more typical 500. The school operated on an $8.5 million budget. Tuition cost $26,000 a year. Negotiations with a group of private investors failed, so all classes have been cancelled.

"Many of the faculty are helping us out so it's like they're not leaving us empty handed," Contreras said.

Bethany is affiliated with the Assemblies of God church, although the school's website indicates half of the students belong to other Christian denominations. The school also has a strong athletic program, and just last month, announced it had hired a new assistant coach for one of its teams.

Pastor John Caravalho of Coastlands Church in Half Moon Bay was walking around the small redwood tree filled campus. He was a star basketball player and a member of the Class of 1986. He wanted his two daughters and son to see the university he attended after learning that it will close.

"When you think about people who have come through here, there are leaders who are living in Sri Lanka now and other parts of India, all over the world," Caravalho said. "People in Africa, just out of this little environment here; it's a phenomenal place."

The impact of Bethany closing will ripple through the small Santa Cruz Mountain community of Scotts Valley. That's where Bethany students would go for burritos or pizza; others would find part-time jobs there. Erik Dalinda, manager of Santa Cruz Pizza Company, said the closure will mean a loss of income, although at 400 students plus faculty, it will not be sizeable.

The school's official closure will come in about three weeks when the university's board will take a final vote in front of concerned alumni.


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