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Moody’s issues glum forecast for education sector


On January 16, 2013, Moody’s Investor’s Service, the bond credit rating business, issued a “negative short-term outlook” for the entire sector of higher education. The bleak forecast for the next 12-18 months includes all forms of higher education, including community colleges and top-tier research universities.

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Two reports reveal faculty views on digital learning


In 1998, working as a bookstore manager
 of a rather large seminary, I was surprised to discover that very few of the school's professors would respond to my e-mail. They all had accounts, of course, but when it came to actually checking the inbox, only a handful even seemed to know how -- and only of a few of that handful cared to do so. You are not surprised by this. Professors are often a considered a stodgy bunch.

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Research reveals information on "millennial" donors, volunteers



New research sheds light on the nonprofit giving habits of young people ages 20 to 35: They seek information on their smartphones (but not exclusively); they're more likely to donate if they volunteer first; they're very interested in leadership (but most haven’t been asked to lead).

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What? No grad degree in enrollment management?


The field of enrollment management -- which includes admissions and financial aid -- has traditionally been led and staffed by generalists. But new graduate programs in enrollment management are emerging to help newbies and senior leaders alike cope with the increasing sophistication of this field.

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Megadeth = good publicity

"Heavy metal rock star is Lutheran seminarian." That grabs your attention, doesn't it? On January 19, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a feature about David Ellefson, a founding member of the "thrash metal" rock band Megadeth, who is now a student in the Specific Ministry Program at Concordia Seminary. Ellefson, who is 47 and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, is an active member of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, where, with his pastor's encouragement, he started a new music ministry called MEGA Life. Now Ellefson is preparing for ministry through a program at Concordia that allows him to take courses mostly online. Why should I care about this? I'm not interested in heavy metal music, but I am interested in how seminaries communicate. And from what I can see, this unlikely story has been a winner for the school. On January 20, the day following the original Post-Dispatch article, Rolling Stone posted an article about the "rock star who wants to become a pastor." The Assoc ...

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Preserve the core -- all else can change

The Alban Institute recently posted a must-read essay about congregational leadership titled "When the Mission Changes." In it, author Dan Hotchkiss reflects on the critical times in a congregation's history where the mission of the community needs radical reconsideration. This involves more than reworking the verbiage in the mission statement, he says. "[W]hat if times change so much that the original mission starts to look like a mistake?" Can a theological school find itself in a similar position? Of course. And more than a few schools are already taking the radical steps of rethinking and redefining their missions for the 21st century. For example: The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology changed its name this fall from Mars Hill Graduate School, partly to distinguish itself from a church with a similar name but dissimilar theological positions. But in the major rebranding process, the school has focused its identity on progressive evangelicalism and zeroed in on what it does best: ...

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Once you "like" In Trust, you'll find that that posts from In Trust occasionally appear in your own Facebook feed. All our posts are about governance issues or other topics releveant to seminaries, theological schools, and other forms of theological and biblical education.

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Is consolidation the future of Episcopal seminaries?

A popular website called Episcopal Cafe recently ran a strongly worded article by George Clifford called "A Word on Our Seminaries: Consolidate!" Clifford notes that the Episcopalians' current network, with 11 seminaries only loosely affiliated with the national church body, has significant down sides. For one thing, he says, 11 schools are too many for a shrinking church. Moreover, the individual seminaries receive no dedicated funding from the denomination, and hence many students go into significant debt paying substantial tuition. Clifford proposes a radical solution: Force nearly all the Episcopal seminaries to turn over their assets to the national denominational body (or else disfellowship them). Then liquidate them. Use the assets to support one or two seminaries and provide free tuition for ordination-track students while charging tuition to lay-ministry students. I don't think that this plan is actually feasible -- primarily because few schools would turn over their assets to the national church ...

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The future of seminary governance

If you could look into a crystal ball at the future of theological education, what would you see? The editors at Patheos.com have been wondering the same thing, and so they've assembled essays from an impressive list of seminary presidents, deans, professors, and other interested parties on the topic "The Future of Seminary Education" (or, more specifically, "Does the Seminary Have a Future?"). The responses include a substantive and wide-ranging interview with Daniel Aleshire as well as a "just the facts" reply from Barbara Wheeler, director of the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge reflects on the role of seminaries in post-Christian and more diverse environments. Philip Clayton and Tony Jones write more explicitly about seminary education for the post-institutional emergent church. Gary Peluso-Verdend and Mark D. Roberts both suggest that laity should be the ultimate focus of theological education. All together, the series is l ...

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Multiple gold standards now needed, says ATS chief

The Associated Baptist Press recently published an article called "Seminaries Adapt to Changing Religious Landscape." The meat of the article is an analysis of the current state of theological education by Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools.  We've heard from Aleshire on this subject before and included an interview with him in the Autumn 2008 issue of In Trust. But the new article crisply summarizes Aleshire's metaphor of "multiple gold standards." Aleshire argues that for the past century or more, there has been a single gold standard for theological education -- a three-year post-baccalaureate program emphasizing theology, Bible, and history, and including field education and other forms of "practical" ministry. (Education for Catholic priests has varied from this form, but only slightly.) Aleshire suggests that more than a single gold standard is now needed -- particularly alternate forms of theological education for part-time clergy; on-the-job educat ...

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Pastor finds that seminary education prepared him for vital questions


Rarely have I seen
such a vigorous defense of academic theological study as the column Jason Byassee just wrote for the United Methodist Reporter. Byassee is an academic -- he most recently has been a fellow in theology and leadership at "Leadership Education at Duke Divinity," a program of Duke University Divinity School.

This summer Byassee was appointed pastor of a United Methodist church in Boone, North Carolina, and he was somewhat surprised by what he found: Regular people in a small Appalachian city were eager to ask the new pastor theological questions.

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Beyond Borders (part 2): Box store vs. Bookseller

Read Part 1 of this post. The bankrupt Borders stores tried to be a one-stop shop for books, magazines, music, movies, and related paraphernalia -- remember the "Itty-Bitty Book Light"? But in an increasingly digital age, consumers can compare prices instantly on their smart phones and select the brightness of their books' pages on their Kindle or iPad. Unfortunately, many theological schools assume that they're falling short of their mission if they don't try to provide a Borders-like experience: a comprehensive approach to theological and ministerial education that provides everything to everyone. But North American theological education diverges from the Borders example in at least one significant way: its mission is to serve -- not profit from -- church and society. Theological schools exist not for their own sake but rather in service to a larger mission. Our schools are all playing on the same team, striving toward a broad and common goal of educating effective ministers, lay leaders, counselo ...

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Beyond Borders (part 1): Lessons from a megachain's demise

The closing of Borders bookstores has drawn responses from a variety of sectors. One seminary professor even wrote a theological reflection on the news. Without a doubt, Borders was an American fixture for nearly two decades, and its downfall has important lessons for organizations in the midst of large-scale shifts in their markets. A few observations are noteworthy: One news report suggests that the fall of Borders is an opportunity for small independent stores, which can focus on special niches or cater to particular communities. The lesson is simple: a one-size-fits-all approach may, in fact, serve no organization very well. One college dean suggests Borders failed because it was not distinctive enough and did not align its core competencies to a changing marketplace. He fears many middle-of-the-road private colleges are headed down this same path. Another observer offers three concise lessons: (1) The middle is a bad place to be. (2) Technology is not always the answer. (3) Disruptio ...

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Theological reflection in the Internet age

I tend toward skepticism when I read titles like "Theology and the Church After Google: How This New Age Will Change Christianity." How could one product (like Google) affect the church? Is theological reflection really that much different today than it was in 1990, before the advent of the Internet?  Yet this article, which originally appeared in the Princeton Theological Review, is well researched and provocative, and author Philip Clayton offers some insights that may be helpful to theological school boards. Clayton sees a problem: While some church leaders are addressing the spiritual needs of people who live in a world that has been transformed by the Internet, most are not -- they're still trying to reach people in timeworn ways.  Clayton says that's because academic theological studies haven't changed as fast as the culture has. Theology in the Internet age must be more "beta," more hesitant, he says. In the age of Google, people see "bugs" or problems as opportunities to learn rather th ...

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Harnessing technology to educate the public about a three-school merger


George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of GodMergers and consolidations are in the news these days. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several:

With some exceptions, most of these consolidations involve a seminary becoming a graduate division within a small university of the same theological tradition. That seems like a winning combination.

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Worth noting: The emerging church

There's a big difference between a fad and a movement: Christian heavy metal was a fad. Emergent Christianity is a movement. Emergent Christianity and the emerging church movement gained considerable traction in the first decade of this century. Wikipedia has a pretty good introduction to the characteristics of a concept that's still gaining shape and definition. But the general idea of the emergent movement is a realignment of Christian communities for a world of "posts": postmodern, postliberal, postevangelical, even post-Christian.  Based on a typical description like this one, confessional Christians may see emergent Christianity as too liberal and too dismissive of ecclesiology. And liberal, mainline, and "cultural Christians" may think it's just conservative neo-evangelicalism in disguise. Many seminary trustees and administrators, who likely fall somewhere on this continuum, may also have one of these reactions when they hear murmurs of emergence among their professors o ...

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He lived in a dorm room for 20 years

University of Victoria, British Columbia

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has sided with the University of Victoria over its decision to evict an on-campus resident who had lived in a dorm room for nearly 20 years.

Alkis Gerd'son finally moved out of his room in December 2010 after the provincial Supreme Court validated the university's eviction notice. He then filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. Last week, his claim was determined to be groundless.

Gerd'son moved into the University of Victoria residence hall in 1991 and graduated in 1997, but he refused to vacate. He suffers from post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and allergies. The province of British Columbia declared him disabled in 2004.

University officials say that they allowed Gerd'son to remain in his dorm room for more than 10 years out of "compassion," but they finally served an eviction notice in 2008.

Read the article in the Times Colonist newspaper here.

College president criticizes his own board in mass e-mail

Here's an example of "worst practices in governance." In a "special edition" of the college e-newsletter sent this week, Hocking College president Ron Erickson assailed his board for interfering with his presidency. "Word has now reached me that a new plan is underway to remove me from my current position as president, reassign me to the role of 'consultant,' and to appoint an internal, interim president for the remainder of my current contract," Erickson wrote. He said that the board had made promises at a previous meeting to improve the board-president relationship, but these had not been kept. (The previous conflict was detailed last year in the Columbus Dispatch under the title "A mess at Hocking College.") When the Athens News asked board chair Joe Murtha about the e-newsletter, Murtha said, "My God -- you're telling me (about this) for the first time. He certainly hasn't tried to talk to me about anything like that." Erickson suggested that the plan to remove him from his job might be enacted at Fri ...

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"Traditioned innovation" at Beeson Divinity School

The award-winning website Faith and Leadership has recently been highlighting "traditioned innovation." That's their term for an entrepreneurial orientation that's tempered by the wisdom of the ages. Their latest example: Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. Although part of a Baptist university, Beeson is explicitly interdenominational. Its founding dean, Timothy George, is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who has tried to open Beeson's doors to various historic emphases: respect for Mary and the saints, appreciation for monasticism and iconography, and more. The divinity school's blend of tradition and innovation is most evident in its marvelous Hodges Chapel, which could easily grace a European capital but is an unusual sight on the skyline of Birmingham, Alabama.  Jason Byassee, the author of the article about Beeson, has written an essay for the upcoming issue of In Trust about another example of "traditioned innovation" -- the weekly congregational reports published by ...

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Six myths about the proposal to limit charitable deductibility

Have you heard about President Barack Obama's proposal to limit the amount the deductibility of charitable gifts for high-income donors? Many observers fear that by reducing the incentive for wealthy people to give, the nonprofit sector will suffer. The Nonprofit Quarterly has published a helpful article that tries to separate fact from hysteria. It identifies the following as "myths" that are circulating about the president's proposal: The president is aiming only at charitable deductions. The cap will affect all charitable donors. Charitable giving will be slammed. Charitable deductions have never been capped before. All of charity will lose. This is the wrong signal at the wrong time. On page 20 of the Spring 2011 issue of In Trust, Washington attorney Marcus Owens told writer Dorothy Ridings that he believes the full charitable deduction is safe for now, since the divided Congress is unlikely to agree on any plan -- especially one that would raise revenue but mi ...

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Where are military chaplains trained?

Earlier this month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, the theological school in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell, is training more future U.S. Air Force chaplains than any other school. The Christian Century picked up the story too. The paper also reported that Eden Theological Seminary, a United Church of Christ school in St. Louis, is launching a new initiative to provide more liberal chaplains for the military. President David Greenhaw said that "there's a vacuum" in the chaplaincy that Eden wants to help fill. But what's most interesting to me about this story is buried a little deeper than the headline. It turns out that that chaplain candidates are required to pass 72 semester hours in post-baccalaureate studies in theology or a related field. This coursework must be taken at an accredited institution -- but not necessarily a program accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.  Liberty Theological Seminary has accreditat ...

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Global view lends insight at home

Those of us in theological education keep a close eye on what other schools in North America are up to. And in seeking solutions to new challenges, we often look among our peer groups for best practices and sparks of innovation. A new publication from the World Council of Churches, however, reminds us that theological education is a global enterprise with many different forms and functions.  The length and density of most academic reference works usually keep them off our recreational reading lists. And the new Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity -- almost 800 pages long and weighing nearly five pounds! -- is no exception. But the massive tome draws on the perspectives of more than 90 leaders from around the world to detail the varieties of theological education.  There is much for us to learn from this snapshot. For example: In Latin America, where theological education was once a missionary endeavor from the North, seminaries are now turning to their own communities ...

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Plug-and-play theological education

It's been a year since we first wrote about the "edupunk" phenomenon. Edupunks are part of the up-and-coming generation of students. They think outside the educational boxes that institutions provide for them, finding sources of knowledge and authentic experience wherever they may. While edupunks might still matriculate at an institution of higher learning, they are on the lookout for what they really want and need, wherever they can find it. (One university is experimenting with students like this and hosting "flash seminars," where a time and location for discussion on a hot topic is posted in online social networks, and only the first 25 students are allowed to participate.) In the past year, we've also seen the rise of another term in higher education: "plug-and-play." This refers to an increasingly a la carte market approach to completing a degree. While a graduate student may be officially enrolled at one institution, that student can shop around -- usually online -- for classes at other schools -- c ...

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Keeping your school in alignment

Over at the Call and Response Blog, a young mainline pastor is getting honest about the professional world into which she recently graduated. In a post called "Younger Clergy and the New Economic Normal," Amy Thompson Sevimli outlines the economic and demographic realities facing the mainline church, telling of a generation of older ministers who are hanging on to fewer and fewer full-time pastorates, while seminaries produce ever more young people expecting to enter the pulpit with the pay and pension of their predecessors. "[W]hat should younger clergy do, since most of us have already paid for at least eight years of schooling and don't have a second set of skills to fall back on?" she asks. "The model for ministry which we have long assumed is no longer the model of the future." Or, as a headline for another article says, "Too Many Pastors, Not Enough Work." The changing nature of the pastorate is evident everywhere we look, and not only in mainline denominations. For many small congregations (wheth ...

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Changing theological education in a changing world

Presidents, rectors, deans, and other leaders in North American theological education gathered in Montreal earlier this summer for the Biennial Meeting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the association, gave the opening address that set the stage for the two days of conversation and decisions to follow. His speech addressed the changing landscapes of North American religion, including shifting patterns of religious adherence and practice, increased religious diversityand pluralism, and the globalization of Christianity. It's fitting, he explained, that the meeting was being held in Montreal, which only 50 years ago was a firmly Catholic city. Today, rates of religious participation in the city are among the lowest on the continent, a fact which some interpret as the canary in the coal mine for American and Canadian churches. The most complete scholarly account of secularism also has a connection to Montreal. Charles Taylo ...

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