Among the difficulties many theological schools face today is the decline in student enrollment. The answer to this problem may well be in a school’s ability to adapt to the needs of today’s potential seminarians.

Enrollment in the traditional M.Div. program model has decreased over time. In a Summer 2009 In Trust article, writer Trudy Bush cited several possible reasons for this. First, she wrote, prospective students have increasingly looked at alternatives to the M.Div. for their theological education, including church-provided courses and two-year M.A. programs. Second, the cost of theological education has become prohibitive for many students, and some of them have become hesitant to take on student debt in order to fund an M.Div. degree.

Many schools offer alternatives to the traditional M.Div. program in order to be more attractive to potential applicants -- for example, two-year M.A. programs. These programs take less time to complete and make part-time study more doable for students who need to work full time. Adding two-year M.A. programs can be cost effective for the school: Because students in these programs will be taking many of the same classes as M.Div. students, new faculty need not be added.

In her article, Bush highlighted several schools that had adapted their models in order to accommodate the changing needs of seminarians. For example, she pointed to New York Theological Seminary, which provides nontraditional class schedules and incorporates online learning to serve students who are part-time and nonresidential. 

Since the publication of Bush’s article, many schools have explored alternate models for addressing the needs of today’s seminarians. For example, the Summer 2016 issue of In Trust highlighted Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which has recently transformed its M.Div. curriculum into a hybrid format (both online and in person). 

The same issue of the magazine also features an article on competency-based education, an educational model that provides credit to students based on the competencies they can prove they’ve mastered, rather than by credit hours.

What are some ways your school has adapted? Have you seen enrollment rise based on your changes? 

 

To read about competency-based education, click here.

If you are on the board member, staff member, or faculty member of an In Trust Center member school, you can read Trudy Bush’s 2009 article here. You'll need a username and password to see the full text.

You'll also need a username and password to read about Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s curriculum changes.