PC(USA) schools are increasing online offerings
September 15, 2017
According to Irene Neller, Fuller Theological Seminary’s vice president of communications, marketing and admissions, “Technology is causing a mass disruption in higher education.” She added that “Students’ learning preferences, the pace and the way they go about learning has radically changed.”
Fuller, which is based in Pasadena, California, is planning to close its satellite campuses in Seattle, Menlo Park and Orange County and reduce degree and program course offerings in Phoenix and Colorado. The changes, if approved by accreditors, will be effective at the end of September 2019.
In a letter to alumni, Fuller officials said they made their decision because of a growing demand for their online offerings and a decline in residential enrollment. The letter said that regional campus enrollment dropped by about 30 percent from 2013–17, while online enrollment surged about 50 percent during the same period. Fuller currently has some 6,500 enrollments in 260 online courses — and more of its students take classes online than at any of its campuses.
The effects of the technological revolution are also impacting PC(USA) seminaries. Columbia Theological Seminary is currently preparing a strategic plan that includes adding an online program, which trustees will vote on in October. If approved, online courses and programs could begin in the 2018–19 academic year.
Meanwhile, at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, most students now get their theological training online. Dubuque is the only Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminary offering a master of divinity program online, and in 2000, Dubuque began offering its Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE) classes online. With more than 1,500 registrations from all over the country over the years, Dubuque officials decided to increase the seminary’s online offerings.
“It’s a fabulous experience as a professor to teach digitally,” said Annette Bourland Huizenga, Dubuque’s assistant dean and associate professor of New Testament. “Primarily because students can’t hide; they have to do the work. They can’t come into class and pretend they’ve done the readings by spouting something off.”
Dubuque currently has 15 first-year online students in this year’s MDiv class — all from the PC(USA) — and 11 residential students. Dubuque also offers a one-year Master of Arts in Christian Leadership Program online that has 24 new students; all but two are Presbyterian.
“Our distance learners say the top reason for their satisfaction as online students is spiritual and faith formation,” said the Rev. Dr. Sue LeFeber, Dubuque’s director of seminary vocation, field education and placement. “I’m excited about the seminary’s future. By using technology, we are staying nimble and flexible rather than saying, ‘This is going to be our one path.’”
Union Presbyterian Seminary has also been a pioneer of sorts in online learning in the PC(USA). Union was the first PC(USA) seminary to launch a Masters of Arts in Christian Education (MACE) program through its Blended Learning Program, where students spend 11 weeks online and one week on campus each semester. Blended Learning and MACE were part of the Extended Campus Program that started as a summer school program at the Presbyterian School for Education (PSCE) when it was a separate school from Union. Union joined in federation with PSCE in 1997.
Union also started an online learning program for those not seeking a degree through Pathways to Learning & Leadership for CREs or those in a congregation who might want to do coursework at a higher level than what they might find through their congregation’s adult education classes.
“The spiritual formation we’ve been able to do with incoming residential students online through our Community of Learning program before they arrive has been wonderfully creative,” said Union President Brian Blount. “We’re now trying to figure out how we can reach into areas of spiritual life in the church. It’s important to take what we learn and serve the wider church.”
Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Online Offerings
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Loving God, we pray for those who hunger and thirst for the gospel, for those who teach, for those who learn and for all who are called to your service. Amen.