On Tuesday, October 8, Winebrenner Theological Seminary convened an intentionally selected group of like-minded seminaries and educational agencies to assist in finding a solution to further the educational experience of those who have partial undergraduate education. We called this event Pathways to Graduate Theological Education and were able to meet, in part, due to the generosity of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools, specifically the Resource Grant program.
All represented organizations cared deeply about the future of higher education, and joined together as we asked, “How can we work collaboratively towards an educational approach that is more accessible, affordable and be to the benefit of the church, our communities, and God’s kingdom?” Or, to turn the question into a statement, I believe our conversations at this event can lead to an educational approach that is more accessible, affordable, while at the same time preserving the quality of the best of seminary education.
As I listen to church leaders, I’ll occasionally hear someone ask the question, “How will our community be different if our church ceases to exist?” The point of that question is to make sure the ministry is making a difference in the life of the community. As I think about the possible outcomes for our Pathways event, I think we have the potential to make a significant difference within theological higher education.
While all students are important, this event focused on a specific demographic of seminary students. According to a recent U.S. Census report and affirmed by a 2014 study by the Lumina Foundation, “An estimated 46 million adults have some college education but have not completed their degrees.” A key challenge for this population is their lack of an undergraduate degree, keeping many from the “traditional” seminary admission process.
In our grant request to In Trust, we referred to the group gathered as the “Design Team” which helped confirm and define the need for a financial model and platform that will make seminary education more readily accessible to students who have only partially completed their undergraduate education. Among the many topics covered, we discussed the identification of potential accreditation and/or Title IV funding concerns, establishing shared definitions, and developing policies and procedures to ensure consistency in the evaluation of student files.
We believe, as a result of this gathering, we can all achieve a greater capacity for a rigorous admission process for a new and underserved group of applicants. Our planning for the event was driven by the desire to enhance theological higher education within the United States and Canada through the development of a model that makes graduate education accessible to those who believe it might not currently be attainable.
Next week I’ll share some assumptions that are guiding us as we work through this topic.
– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image by Taylor Swayze, accessed via Adobe Spark