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Back to School: Shifting Enrollment and the Future

Here’s the headline: Winebrenner Theological Seminary experiences record graduate enrollment in Fall 2021. But there is so much more to this amazing story than just numbers; there are stories. Stories of students, stories of overcoming challenges, and mostly, the story of an amazing, provider God, the author of all stories.

In the fall of 2018 Winebrenner was just beginning to emerge from a season of challenges to our identity as an organization focused on theological education, so it seems like the perfect place to start. The fruit of the lessons taught by these challenges was just beginning to appear. In the fall of 2018 graduate enrollment at Winebrenner sat at 49 graduate students, (one of the lowest in years), and yet, by the Fall of 2021 that number is 113. What is it that has made the difference for Winebrenner? Is it the new tuition subscription model of $300/month? Is it a renewed focus on collaborative relationships? Is it a change in enrollment strategies? Is it perseverance and faith? I propose that the story of Winebrenner in the Fall of 2021 and moving forward is a combination of all of these factors (and others).

When examining enrollment trends it is common to consider items such as gender breakdown, academic programs, denominational affiliation, and even geographic distribution. Gender breakdown at Winebrenner has been fairly consistent; both 2018 and 2021 show a near 50/50 gender breakdown. All programs at Winebrenner have shown significant growth since 2018; with Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling (MACC) experiencing the most overall growth. Denominational affiliation, like gender breakdown, continues to be consistent with 20-30 denominations represented in any given term. What has changed the most in the past three years at Winebrenner is geographic distribution of our students. As Dr. Bruce Coats indicated in last week’s post: Back to School: Resourcing Students Winebrenner now has students from 22 different states. In 2018 four states were represented by Winebrenner students (all within a day’s driving distance from Findlay). Today, students are coming to us from all over the continental United States; from Washington to Maryland, and Montana to Florida. This geographic expansion is just one of the ways in which God is using Winebrenner to equip leaders to serve in His kingdom.

Another way in which God has provided for both students and Winebrenner is through our new $300/month subscription tuition model. Every day I speak with potential students who wonder how this could really be possible and I love to share the story of how God has made this a reality. Beginning with the early days of considering, through the Lilly Foundation, the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers (ECFFM), continuing through the challenging times of restructuring personnel, and then shifting service to a remote environment because of the pandemic are all parts of the story of creating an affordable tuition model.

As Winebrenner continues to lean into the future, I believe that faith, perseverance, and flexibility will be the keys to continuing this trend of equipping more leaders to serve in God’s kingdom. There are no words adequate to describe the faith that has been demonstrated by staff, faculty, board of trustees, donors, and students during the past several years. Faith has provided talent, students, funding and opportunities for growth.  Perseverance; staying with something for the long-haul—once again this is found in those who have been part of the story of Winebrenner, whether for short or long-term, persevering through times of uncertainty and always willing to lift their heads and reach to the future, serving the kingdom through preparation and equipping of leaders. Finally, flexibility—that ability to consider the possibilities, the reality that change is a part of the life of every person and every organization. Many strategies have changed at Winebrenner over the past several years; from enrollment to donor relations, and accessibility, to affordability.  By paying attention not just to what is working now, but also being attentive and open to a continually changing higher learning environment, Winebrenner will be in a place to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

  • Amy Kinney, Director of Enrollment Management, Winebrenner Theological Seminary