From category archives: In Trust Blog


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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How do you measure credit hours for online classes?

The U.S. Congress is looking into the question of how credit hours are measured for online higher education. With more and more students funding their higher education through federal financial aid, members of Congress apparently suspect that standards may be slipping. As with most topics in Washington, party politics has reared its head, with Democrats defending traditional notions of credit hours based on "seat time," while Republicans argue for increased flexibility, which might help the for-profit "proprietary" colleges like the University of Phoenix. But over at Inside Higher Ed, my favorite blogger "Dean Dad" is balking. The crisis in higher education, he says, is not competition with for-profit schools. The crisis is that higher education, as it exists today, is not sustainable. And awarding credit hours for seat time, rather than for learning, is actually making higher education's future even less sustainable. As we continue to discuss the future of theological education, this is an important con ...

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Christians at the forefront of online learning

The New Year 2010 issue of In Trust included an article about the recent growth online theological education. Now the wider world is also taking note of the impressive growth of religious schools that embrace online learning. Inside Higher Ed reports that more and more Christian colleges are taking advantage of the built-in loyalty that many Americans feel toward religious institutions. Many of these schools are learning marketing and delivery tips from the most successful proprietary colleges like the University of Phoenix, which has 458,000 students. Among the schools profiled in the piece is Indiana Wesleyan University, which In Trust also described in the New Year 2010 issue. Read the article in Inside Higher Ed, titled "Online, Christian Students," here. If you're affiliated with an In Trust member school, you can read "Time for Reflection" (about online learning) and "Launching in Tough Times" (about Indiana Wesleyan University). Both appeared in the New Year 2010 issue of In Trust. Not sure wheth ...

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ATS Biennial theme: "The future has arrived"

Will your school be represented at the ATS Biennial Meeting this month? The Association of Theological Schools is holding its 47th Biennial Meeting on June 23-25 in Montreal. The biennial meeting is the gathering of all ATS member institutions. In Trust will host a reception for its members and friends on Thursday, June 24, at 5 p.m. You are invited! The Biennial Meeting is a true business meeting -- representatives from member schools vote to admit new members, discuss changing standards of accreditation, and hear financial reports. It's also a place for continuing education. Numerous workshops cover material like distance learning, stabilizing a tuition-driven institution, and resource-sharing among schools. This year, two seminary leaders will join In Trust president Christa R. Klein in a session on "building boards for good governance in demanding times." Finally, the Biennial Meeting is an opportunity for socializing and networking. It's the one chance for seminary deans and presidents to meet other ...

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Dropping diversity's baggage

The word "diversity" carries a lot of baggage these days. It is both cliche and code, sometimes bordering on meaningless, other times carrying deep emotional meaning for folks on all sides of an issue.  Scott Page, an economist at University of Michigan, tries to drop diversity's baggage at the curb with a more practical approach to the topic. Perhaps you already know about his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. In it, he uses mathematics to explain why diverse working groups produce better results than homogeneous groups. "[D]iverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it," he says. This not only refers to professional or academic training, but also that "people's identity groups -- ethnic, racial, sexual, age -- matter when it comes to diversity in thinking." So what does this have to do with theological education? In 2002, Auburn S ...

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Ideas vs. visions

A recent piece on the Harvard Business Review blog suggests that the previous 10 years was a decade of ideas. The author reminds us of 2002's The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, which was embraced by leaders in business and local government as a new model for community development and economic growth, based on attracting creative people with new ideas. And of course the rise of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking media has been happening all around us -- they too grew out of great ideas. But are great ideas enough? "What is in short supply," the blog post asserts, "are visionary thinkers who will be capable of making sense of this abundance of stimuli -- visionaries who will build the arenas to unleash the power of ideas and transform them into actions."  He goes on to predict that the next 10 years will be a decade of visionary thinking.  Theological eduction has likewise experienced a decade of ideas -- dozens of theological ...

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Seminary will cease traditional face-to-face teaching

Early in 2009, Lexington Theological Seminary declared financial exigency, terminated tenure, and announced plans for a new model of theological education. In May 2009, the board approved plans for a new educational model. The Disciples of Christ institution in Kentucky plans to continue offering the M.A., M.Div., and D.Min. degrees. But after the current academic year, courses will be offered only through intensives, distance learning, and online.   In the transition, the board instructed the seminary's administration to seek court approval to use donor-restricted endowment funds. They also asked the administration to develop an operational budget of $2 million (down from $4.1 million) and to begin necessary reductions to balance this budget. During 2009, staff was reduced from 31 full-time employees (21 staff and 10 faculty) to 17 employees (12 staff and 5 faculty). A report on the transition, written by president James P. Johnson, appeared in the seminary's Winter 2009 Bulletin, which was posted ...

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Christian Century editorial on theological education

The editors of the Christian Century have published an editorial on economic pressures at theological seminaries. The Century is often considered the mouthpiece of mainline Protestant Christianity in America. The editorial quotes data from the Association of Theological Schools: The Association of Theological Schools reports that of the member schools that responded to a survey last April, 53 percent saw their endowments drop from 21 to 30 percent between June 2008 and March 2009; another 15 percent experienced an even deeper drop. Seminaries that were living on the edge financially before the recession were forced to cut faculty and staff, freeze or reduce wages and benefits, defer maintenance and reduce other spending, especially on libraries. Aleshire suggests that seminaries need to rethink their economic models. But the editorial goes further:  Seminaries and their constituencies should use this moment to consider new pedagogical models as well. . . .  Curricular discussions have focused on ...

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Controversy over the selection of a new president

With minimal input from faculty or alumnae, the trustees of the College of New Rochelle have chosen a new president. She has no advanced degree, but much experience at the school and a strong financial background. Is this a problem? Inside Higher Ed reports that the new president of the Catholic women's college will be Judith Huntington, who currently serves as vice president for financial affairs. Her highest degree is a bachelor's degree in accounting from Pace University. Although unhappy about the process by which the new president was chosen, many of the college's constituents seem content with the choice: "She is a very collegial individual, and I believe she has great respect for the academic mission of the college," the chair of the faculty council says. "While I understand the concerns of others and respect and share the concern for the procedures that were followed in this case, we're all best served at this juncture to be behind her."  For their part, trustees emphasized that Huntingto ...

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"Slate 60" lists the most generous donors of the year

Golisano Library at Roberts Wesleyan College

The online magazine Slate has released its annual list of the most generous American philanthropists. As usual, gifts to higher education are well represented.

See the table of the most generous donors here.

Read biographies of the philanthropists here.


Image: The cafe in the B. Thomas Golisano Library at Roberts Wesleyan College. The library is also used by Northeastern Seminary, a sister institution to Roberts Wesleyan and one of In Trust's member schools. Golisano, the donor who helped build the library several years ago, is No. 50 on this year's "Slate 60" list of 2009's most generous donors. Photo by Jay Blossom.

Private giving to colleges declines 12 percent

Empty wallet

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed are reporting on a new study of private giving to colleges and universities, and the news is sobering. Donations are down across the board, at both public and private colleges.

Read about the study in the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

Read about the study in Inside Higher Ed here.

Read the press release from the Council for Aid to Education, which sponsored there survey, here (PDF).


Image credit

Knowing your mission in a multireligious society

In December, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released results from a new poll that finds "large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions." You have probably heard the figures already: A third of all Americans worship in more than one place. A quarter of all Americans sometimes worship beyond their own tradition. These numbers increase among those who attend worship at least once a week.  See the poll results here. The Pew Forum reported in 2008 that the number of Americans who do not claim any religious affiliation rose above 15 percent. Combined with membership declines in many churches, some observers detect the dawn of an irreligious, unbelieving America.  But as the recent report shows, this is not the case. America is not less religious but rather religious in different ways than before. North Americans are certainly more multireligious than previous generations. While this raises countless questions ...

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Lay people like theology, too

The Shack

The challenges that theological schools face are real. But three articles that appeared in my inbox recently have reminded me of something important. People are interested in theology!

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Edupunks rock!

The other day, my colleague Rebekah Burch Basinger taught me a new word: edupunk. Ever since, I've been wondering if (and how) edupunks will transform theological education. By far the best exploration of this movement comes from a recent feature story in Fast Company magazine. Called "How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education," the article explains how some technologically astute people are taking a do-it-yourself attitude toward higher education, relying on free content provided by universities to craft their own educational programs. The "punk" part of edupunk is a reference to punk rock music -- and especially its rebellion against convention. Punk rejects the norms of conventional musical training -- that if you practice, practice, practice, you'll eventually get to Carnegie Hall. Punks aren't interested in Carnegie Hall, and they don't care if you (or I) approve of their music. Similarly, edupunks don't care about your (or my) fancy degrees. They are, however, intereste ...

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Back from the brink of disaster

Blackboard in the student prayer room at Oral Roberts University

The Autumn 2009 issue of In Trust magazine includes two articles about schools coming back from the brink of disaster.

"At Oral Roberts University, Making the Most of a Crisis"

In 2007, President Richard Roberts, son of the university's founder, stepped down while defending himself and Oral Roberts University from a wrongful termination law suit. Soon it was revealed that the school was $55 million in debt. But at the moment of crisis, a philanthropist stepped in, demanding significant changes in governance in return for a generous gift.

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Libraries of the future

  In years like these when cash flow is tight, endowments are down, and enrollments are sagging, schools of all sorts look for ways to slice a few lines from the operating budget.  But when boards and administrators are investigating creative solutions, how often do they turn to the library, tried and true, as a possible source of innovative savings?  If knowledge is the lifeblood of the academy, then books are the veins through which knowledge flows.  Right? Colleges and universities are increasingly turning to innovative solutions and the fast-paced development of new information technologies to trim overhead, maintenance, and staff budgets, while at the same time improving services for a changing student demographic. It's becoming more common to outsource certain functions (e.g. cataloging). Because of aggressive archiving and digitizing, the prominence of actual paper books is decreasing in favor of new ways of delivering knowledge. Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academ ...

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