For institutions of higher education, 2020 has proven to be a great challenge. This is so clear to us that it goes without saying. The year has proven to be a challenge on many levels and it is clear that the landscape may never fully recover. (Some great recent articles can be seen at Christianity Today and U.S.News and World Report. And in a later post I’ll outline some of the most pressing challenges to seminaries in the West right now.)
To be clear, the outlook for colleges and universities in the US (where graduation rates hover around 27% of the total population) is not positive. In a recent study, Dr Scott Galloway and his team evaluated 436 universities in the US and rated them based on their value and vulnerability. The team then plotted these schools on a four-quadrant graph with scores of Thrive, Survive, Struggle, or Parish. Dr Galloway and his team placed 89 of the 436 universities in the Parish category; they are considered “low value” and “more vulnerable.”
For Christians in the US who want to see a generation trained up for life and ministry, it is sad to see that among those receiving a score of “perish” are the following well-known institutions:
George Fox University
Of course this does not guarantee that they will close. But it does put things into perspective. The Covid-19 Pandemic has proven to be a challenge on many fronts. Consider these two examples:
Financially: Schools that don’t have a large endowment are going to struggle; even public universities will struggle as enrolment drops. State contributions have gradually shrunk over time and schools have become increasingly dependent on student tuition. On top of this, one of the budget lines (salaries and benefits) remains largely immovable. As if this were not enough, schools will have to make tough decisions about how to deliver their teaching and whether they can justify charging full-price for online-only instruction. Many have questioned the value of an expensive education earned on Zoom.
Technically: In addition to the financial pinch that many institutions are facing is the challenge associated with transitioning to an online platform. Teaching staff had to adjust to online teaching at the drop of a hat, students’ unique needs had to be accounted for, and direction-altering decisions had to be made at an institutional level very quickly. The difficulty is navigating the transition to online platform when that is not in the DNA of the institution.
In the face of all these challenges, by the end of July 2020 we have already seen schools close down entirely (e.g., Logsdon Seminary), university departments close (e.g., the philosophy department at Liberty University), and hundreds of faculty and staff laid off from dozens of other Christian colleges and universities (e.g., Southern Seminary and Fuller Seminary).
All of this has huge consequences that may not fully be comprehended for a long time. Yet even now there is a growing awareness that things cannot remain the same. Students need to be accommodated in the teaching process, teaching needs to be moved to a hybrid or fully-online model (at the very least in the short-term), costs need to decrease, and seminaries will have to do a better job of preparing students for their future ministries.
At Aquila, all of this has shown us the great need for a new model for training missionaries, church planting teams, and pastors. That is why we are more confident than ever that our competency-based apprenticeship model for training students within the context of the local church is more relevant than ever.
To compare, consider Northwest Baptist Seminary, a small to medium-sized seminary in rural Vancouver with good connections and a long history. The seminary operates with two different educational models: 1) a traditional seminary program with an emphasis on in-person classroom teaching and 2) a competency-based online program (called Immerse) where students remain in their context of ministry and have three mentors walking with them through the program tailoring the instruction to their needs.
While the traditional program had to make adjustments in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the competency-based program continued uninterrupted. For the Immerse students, nothing major changed with regard to their seminary degree. They continued to learn at their own pace, they continued to engage with their mentors, and they continued to serve in their local congregations. The Immerse program proved Covid-proof.
We are convinced that our decision to journey down the path of developing an apprenticeship inspired, competency-based, and contextually focused program is the future of theological education. (Click here to learn what makes this approach so profoundly different than traditional models to theological training.)
We believe mid-sized and smaller seminaries will be forced to adapt, or they will “perish.” Larger, more historic seminaries – especially those with strong denominational or university connections – will survive, but even these will be forced to adapt to the new landscape.
We trust in God’s loving guidance as we continue to work on developing the Aquila Institute. We are more convinced than ever in the need for such an institute and we are more confident than ever in the wisdom of God that has led us to where we are today.
We thank God for what he is doing here in Germany. We trust Him to continue to guide us and protect us as we develop the institute. We ask that you would continue to pray for us. Pray that we would make wise, informed decisions. Pray that we would keep our focus on Christ. Pray that we would be effective for His glory.