The Council for Christian College and Universities (CCCU) announced Shirley V. Hoogstra of Calvin College as its seventh president on Wednesday, closing a painful chapter that included some public and controversial stumbles with its previous president. Hoogstra, CCCU’s first female president, will take over her new position on Sept. 29.
Hoogstra has been the vice president for student life at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., since 1999 and before that served four years on Calvin’s Board of Trustees. She worked as a lawyer for 13 years in New Haven, Conn., until she found “a calling” to transition from legal duties to higher education, she told The Christian Post.
“I’m excited for this opportunity because I am passionate about Christian education generally and Christian higher education specifically,” Hoogstra said in a statement. “The world is increasingly complex, and the liberal arts education that CCCU institutions offer prepares students to understand why faith deeply matters to people. And the Christian faith gives hope and meaning when hope and meaning in life can seem illusive."
Hoogstra’s experience in both law and higher education gave her a leg up among the list of candidates, especially during today’s tense atmosphere in which Christian higher education constantly has to fight anti-Christian political and social currents. While at Calvin, Hoogstra helped CCCU plan and facilitate several Leadership Development Institutes, and served as an officer on two CCCU commissions.
Charles W. Pollard, chair of the CCCU Board of Directors and president of John Brown University, said Hoogstra now “knows firsthand the heartbeat of the organization and its membership.” He called her “a person of deep faith, humble courage, intuitive judgment, legal insight, and convicted civility.” Her experience “will enable her to represent the CCCU winsomely and effectively in Washington and elsewhere,” he predicted.
Advocacy in Washington isn’t the only challenge the 119-member, 55-affiliate association must tackle today. The controversy with Hoogstra’s predecessor, Edward O. Blews Jr., has also eroded the organization’s credibility. When CCCU fired Blews after just 10 months in office, he lashed back with a $2.2 million lawsuit. The case was settled out of court in April, according to court documents, but neither side publicized the details of the agreement.
Hoogstra will need to provide a new vision for CCCU’s financial model. The group’s biggest money-maker, the Best Semester Program—a study-abroad program that at its peak drew about 750 students per semester—now faces significant competition from its own member institutions. Enrollment in Best Semester programs has dropped dramatically, leaving three-fourths of CCCU’s total budget hanging on a thread.
Though supporters have praised Hoogstra’s legal expertise and experience with higher education, Calvin also recently suffered some financial missteps, for which Hoogstra apologized to her faculty. She pledged to learn from the fiscal mistakes and to “work harder and hopefully wiser than ever.”
Rick Ostrander, provost of Cornerstone University, a school near Calvin, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear about Hoogstra’s appointment and called her “an excellent choice.” Other than her legal experience, Ostrander praised her for being humble and compassionate and having “a heart for people.”