Spring Arbor University
Former names
Spring Arbor Seminary (1873–1929)
Spring Arbor Seminary and Junior College (1929–1960)
Spring Arbor College (1960–2001)
MottoFides, Vivens, Discens (Latin)
Motto in English
Faith, Living, Learning
TypePrivate university
Established1873; 151 years ago (1873)
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
Religious affiliation
Free Methodist Church
Endowment$19.2 Million (2019)[1]
PresidentBrent Ellis
ColorsNavy Blue & Yellow
Sporting affiliations
NCCAA Division I – Midwest

Spring Arbor University (SAU) is a private Free Methodist university in Spring Arbor, Michigan. Developing from an earlier academy and junior college, in 1963 it began offering bachelor's degrees. Attaining university status in 1994, it is the second-largest evangelical Christian university in Michigan. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Spring Arbor University has developed in the late 20th century from a seminary founded in 1873 by leaders of the Free Methodist Church, particularly Edward Payson Hart. First Spring Arbor Seminary was established as a private academy for elementary and secondary grades. Located near the site of a former Potawatomi Indian village, the academy was built on property that formerly belonged to Central Michigan College (later renamed as Hillsdale College after moving to that city).

In 1923, the board of trustees voted to add a junior college to the academy. In 1929, the school was renamed as Spring Arbor Seminary and Junior College. Primary and intermediate classes were discontinued in 1930.

In 1960, the school gained accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and the trustees changed the name of the institution to Spring Arbor College. The high school program was dropped, and Spring Arbor launched its four-year program in 1963.

In 1981, Spring Arbor began offering the first of its degree completion programs for adult learners in nearby Jackson. The college later developed degrees in health-related fields and opened sites in Lansing and Flint, Michigan. Graduate education classes were begun at Spring Arbor in 1994. In 2001, the school changed its name to Spring Arbor University.[3]

A marker designating the college as a Michigan Historic Site was erected by the Michigan Historical Commission in 1963.[4] The inscription reads:

Three Michigan institutions of higher education have had their roots here. The predecessor of Albion College, the Spring Arbor Seminary was chartered in 1835. Michigan Central College, founded in 1844, was located here until its removal in 1855 when it became Hillsdale College. Spring Arbor was opened by free Methodists in 1873 as an academy with elementary and secondary grades. In 1928 the elementary program was discontinued when a junior college was officially introduced. The high school was terminated in 1961 when a senior college was proposed. In September 1963, the first junior class was accepted into the regionally accredited four-year liberal arts college. Throughout its history, the Spring Arbor Faculty and students have been dedicated to "the serious study of the liberal arts, commitment to Jesus Christ as a perspective for learning and participation in the campus community and the contemporary world."


Undergraduate admissions statistics
2018 entering

Admit rate70.9
(832 out of 1,173)
Yield rate23.1
(192 out of 832)
Test scores middle 50%
SAT Total1025-1230
(among 78% of FTFs)
ACT Composite20-27
(among 36% of FTFs)

SAU offers over 70 majors and programs[6] at the undergraduate level at its main campus in Spring Arbor, Michigan. Its most popular undergraduate majors, in terms of 2021 graduates, were:[7]

Social Work (82)
Nursing Administration (67)
Operations Management & Supervision (40)
Business Administration & Management (24)
Sports, Kinesiology & Physical Education/Fitness (18)
General Studies (17)

Spring Arbor University also offers online undergraduate degree options including Associate of Arts and Associate of Science in business, Bachelor of Science in business, Bachelor of Science in Management, Bachelor of Social Work, and Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

In regard to graduate programs, SAU offers Master of business administration, Master of Arts in education, Master of Science in management, Master of Science in nursing, Master of Arts in social work and Master of Arts in counseling degrees.

The university is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. SAU also holds accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.[8]

In the late 1980s, Michael A. O'Donnell, Ph.D. and Nick Stinnett, Ph.D. (professor with the University of Alabama) co-founded The International Family Life Institute, Inc., Montgomery, Alabama,[9][10] which was hired by SAU to help them pioneer the first B.S. degree completion program in Family Life Education on the campus of Spring Arbor University leading to certification for professionals as Certified Family Life Educators (CFLE)[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

In 2020, the university terminated the contracts of 11 faculty, including several tenured faculty. In response, the faculty passed a vote of no confidence in the VPAA.[19]

Student life

As of Fall 2018, total enrollment included 3,436 students. Of this, 1,145 are on campus, 662 are enrolled in professional studies, and 1,629 are graduate students.[20] By Fall 2021, on campus enrollment had fallen to 961.[21] There are roughly 42 denominations represented on the campus. About 84 percent of students are from Michigan, 15 percent are from 22 other states, and 1 percent are international.[22]

Spring Arbor University has two radio stations: 106.9 HOME.fm and 89.3 The Arbor. 89.3 The Arbor has been previously known as 89.3 The Vibe and 89.3 The Message.

With a strong emphasis on spiritual life, Spring Arbor University requires that all students attend a chapel service on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10:05 am. This service includes student-led worship and speakers are pastors, entrepreneurs, professors and missionaries, handpicked by the Chaplain to bring their message to the SAU community.[23] Aside from Chapel, there are campus groups and events designed to grow the spiritual life of students including Spiritual Life Retreat, small groups, and the Community of Learners program. SAU also hosts a one-day event annually called The Focus Series. During this day, classes are canceled and various workshops and seminars are held on campus. Speakers have included emergent church spokesperson and author Brian McLaren.

Discrimination against LGBTQ people

Spring Arbor University has faced numerous accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ students and faculty members. One such instance took place in 2007, when a faculty member was terminated after coming out as transgender.[24]

In the fall of 2017, a speaker at SAU's twice-weekly chapel service was met with applause after placing LGBTQ people in the same category as drug addicts and murderers.[25] His sermon stated: "I don't have time to tell you the stories of lesbians that come to our church and repent of their sins and now are living straight lives. I don't have time to tell you about murderers who walk in and they get changed by the power of God, I can't tell you the drug dealers who actually hand me drugs and say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' And it's not by my might, it's not by my power, it is by the spirit of the Lord.[25]"

In 2018, Dr. Everett Piper (an alumnus, former SAU administrator, and former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University) posted what the New York Times referred to as "a long, vitriolic response to stories in The Pulse, a student news source at his alma mater, Spring Arbor University in Michigan, in which gay students were seeking affirmation and conversation.[26]" In this statement, Piper compared LGBTQ students to white supremacists, saying "How about 'a conversation about how to bring feelings of white supremacy and faith into the light' at the local Christian college?" he wrote. Why, he asked, "do we 'normalize' one sinful habit and predisposition but yet still condemn another?[26]"

The SAU student handbook currently prohibits "same-sex dating behaviors," and states that those who violate this community standard will be offered "counsel and support to encourage students towards living lives consistent with the biblical teaching on sexuality," and may also be subject to suspension or dismissal.[27] It also states that students' clothing must be "gender-appropriate" and that the university "will not support persistent or conspicuous expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender.[28]"

SAU was granted a Title IX exemption in 2014, allowing the university to discriminate on religious grounds, which it still holds today.[29]


The Spring Arbor athletic teams are called the Cougars. The university is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing in the Crossroads League (formerly known as the Mid-Central College Conference (MCCC) until after the 2011–12 school year) since the 2004–05 academic year. They were also a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), primarily competing as an independent in the Midwest Region of the Division I level. The Cougars previously competed in the Wolverine–Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) from 1992–93 to 2003–04.

Spring Arbor competes in 18 intercollegiate varsity sports: Men's sports include baseball, basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis and track & field; while women's sports include basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, track & field and volleyball; and co-ed sports include cheerleading.

Competitive cheer/dance

In the 2019–20 season, Spring Arbor's competitive cheer and dance teams participated in their first competitions, introducing co-ed sports to the school.[30]


The women's soccer team won the 2015, 2017 & 2022 NAIA National Championships. After a 42-game unbeaten streak, the women were the 2016 NAIA National Champion runners-up. The 2019 men's basketball team was the NAIA Division II National Champions.[31]

Notable alumni

This article's list of alumni may not follow Wikipedia's verifiability policy. Please improve this article by removing names that do not have independent reliable sources showing they merit inclusion in this article AND are alumni, or by incorporating the relevant publications into the body of the article through appropriate citations. (December 2023)


  1. ^ As of June 30, 2019. "U.S. and Canadian 2019 NTSE Participating Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2019 Endowment Market Value, and Percentage Change in Market Value from FY18 to FY19 (Revised)". National Association of College and University Business Officers and TIAA. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  2. ^ "Athletics Information" (PDF). October 11, 2018. Archived from the original on December 16, 2018. Retrieved July 8, 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ "History of Spring Arbor University - Spring Arbor University". Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  4. ^ "Michigan Historical Markers - Spring Arbor College". www.hmdb.org. Historical Marker Data Base. Retrieved August 4, 2022.
  5. ^ "Spring Arbor University Data Set 2018-2019" (PDF). Spring Arbor University. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  6. ^ "Traditional Undergraduate Majors and Programs - Spring Arbor University". Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  7. ^ "Spring Arbor University". nces.ed.gov. U.S. Dept of Education. Retrieved January 21, 2023.
  8. ^ "Accreditations and memberships - Spring Arbor University". Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  9. ^ Raising Teens (published by Better Homes and Gardens), "Seven Secrets to Raising Great Kids," December 1999.
  10. ^ The International Family Life Institute, Inc. was responsible for funding the Center for Fathering for $10,000 on the campus of Abilene Christian University and funding the National Adolescent Wellness Research project with the University of Alabama for an additional $15,000.
  11. ^ "Spring Arbor University - NCFR". Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  12. ^ O'Donnell, M.A. (1991) Human Life Cycle I: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  13. ^ O'Donnell, M.A. (1991) Human Life Cycle II: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  14. ^ O'Donnell, M.A. (1991) The Professional Family Life Educator: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  15. ^ O'Donnell, M.A. (1990) Grief Management I: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  16. ^ O'Donnell, M.A. (1990) Grief Management II: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  17. ^ O'Donnell, M.A., editor. (1989) Parenting and Family Skills: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  18. ^ O'Donnell, M.A., editor. (1989) Family Theory: Instructor's Manual. Spring Arbor, MI: Spring Arbor University.
  19. ^ "Spring Arbor University alumni seek accountability after 11 faculty members cut before fall 2021". October 2020. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  20. ^ "Office of Assessment and Institutional Research". Spring Arbor University. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  21. ^ "Office of Assessment and Institutional Research".
  22. ^ "About SAU: Fast Facts". Archived from the original on July 15, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  23. ^ "Spiritual Life". Spring Arbor University. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  24. ^ services, Items compiled from Tribune news (February 5, 2007). "Christian college fires transgender teacher". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  25. ^ a b "LGBTQ students at Christian colleges refuse to choose between sexuality and faith". www.mlive.com. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  26. ^ a b Pappano, Laura (June 5, 2018). "At Christian Colleges, a Collision of Gay Rights and Traditional Values". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  27. ^ "Spring Arbor University Student Handbook (19-20)" (PDF). Spring Arbor University. January 28, 2020. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  28. ^ "Spring Arbor University Student Handbook" (PDF). Spring Arbor University. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  29. ^ Smith, Leanne (August 5, 2014). "Transgender, gay students will not be discriminated against under Title IX exemption, Spring Arbor University officials say". mlive. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  30. ^ "Cheer & Dance teams compete for first time". Spring Arbor University. January 10, 2020. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  31. ^ "Spring Arbor University". www.saucougars.com. Retrieved October 6, 2017.

42°12′21″N 84°33′17″W / 42.20583°N 84.55472°W / 42.20583; -84.55472