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Seminaries are scattered all over North America. They tend to be in the most populous regions, but there are as many reasons for where schools are planted as there are schools. Some were built where denominations have a strong presence (like the Reformed seminaries in Western Michigan); others are set out in the country away from the distractions of the world (like the Benedictine seminaries in rural Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Oregon); and others are near communities that have strong ethnic ties to the school (like the Lutheran seminaries in Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania (two!).

Twenty years ago, perhaps, there was a sense that young single men, just out of college, would happily move across the country for a good education. But with the declining number of students hitting up seminaries for education, and the average student age rising, schools need to be even more careful about planning new campuses.

Students have already tossed aside ideas like, “I need to go to that seminary because it’s my denomination’s school.” Instead, they are saying, “I need to go here because I can’t afford to uproot my family, leave my job, or sell my house.” So if you want to drop a new school onto the map, it makes sense to take into account where your potential students live.

Louis Weeks describes Union Seminary’s expansion to its new campus in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a recent post on Duke’s Faith & Leadership blog. He describes the process in detail -- from inspiration born of an invested board to accreditation for the new school’s programs.

What strikes me as the most interesting bit is Weeks’ discussion of choosing Charlotte for the campus. Examining local demographics for a new fast food joint is one thing, but for a seminary, so much more is at stake, including the financial vitality of the home campus. So the seminary did its research, including delving into the regional distributions of Presbyterians, before settling on a location. This is fine detail.

They also explored the racial make-up of the local population and worked with African American Presbyterians -- the Charlotte Presbytery had a higher representation of black Presbyterians than any other presbytery in the country -- to create programs that met the community’s needs.

As Weeks notes, opening a new campus is fraught with risk. Satellite campuses close all the time, but taking a hard look at the process certainly helps the odds.

Read Weeks’ whole article here.


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