Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ranks among the fastest growing seminaries in North America, according to report published by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
The article by ATS, an accrediting agency, expounded upon “Why 100 Member Schools have Grown,” saying 37-percent of its 273 institutions have grown over the past five years – with 12 of the 100 schools experiencing growth of at least 50 percent. Among these 12 schools in the March 31 report is Midwestern Seminary.
“The closer one evaluates this ATS report, the better the news gets for Midwestern Seminary,” said Jason Allen, president of the seminary. “Among seminaries with enrollments totaling 500 or more students, Midwestern Seminary is recognized as the fastest growing institution in North America.
“While the ATS report is quite encouraging,” he said, “it only tells half the story. Our growth has managed to accelerate during our current academic year at a clip that is absolutely unprecedented, far surpassing even the robust growth we’ve experienced the past couple years. Thankfully, early indicators point toward robust growth for 2015/16 as well.”
One of the article’s authors noted that the range of growth Midwestern Seminary has experienced over the past five years is quite remarkable.
“Of the 34 schools that have grown more than 25 percent during the past five years, MBTS is the only one that built upon a 2009 enrollment of more than 500 students,” said Eliza Smith Brown, director of Communications and External Relations at ATS. “To have achieved 51 percent growth from that starting point required incremental growth of more than 270 students – an extraordinary feat.”
Allen said, “Under God’s kind providence, our growth has been a team effort, with our Enrollment Management Office leading the way, and with everyone else here leaning into the effort with them.
“We’ve been able to build an institutional culture where every employee – faculty, administration, and staff – has bought into our vision of existing for the Church and are giving their very best efforts to this end. For all of this, I am so very grateful to God.”
The article also attempted to pinpoint specific reasons for these institutions’ marked growth, finding, “While there is no single factor accounting for this sustained growth, given the diverse universe of ATS schools, some factors are worth noting.”
Included in these reasons for growth is that “size is not necessarily a factor,” “new degree programs and delivery systems can make a difference,” and that there are a number of factors unique to individual institutions – such as convenience of learning platforms and distinctive course structure models – that play a role.
Particular to Midwestern Seminary, ATS’s executive director Daniel O. Aleshire said, “The seminaries supported by American denominations are all unique in different ways. Southern Baptist seminaries are unique in that, with the exception of Southwestern, they rim the primary population base of the SBC: southern Louisiana, eastern North Carolina, northern Kentucky, Kansas City, and California. The seminaries of every other denomination are located in the heart of the population area of the denomination.
“Southern Baptists, in their location of seminaries founded after World War II,” he said, “demonstrated a perspective that tied theological education to missions. Seminaries were located on frontiers. Midwestern has always needed to search for its students, and it has found an effective search engine in its mission, commitment to constituency and carefully developed educational programming.”
Allen agreed with this supposition saying, “I believe the most important steps we’ve taken are convictional and missiological. We have repurposed the institution to give its very best energies to serving the local Southern Baptist church. Hence, our motto, “for the Church.” Missiologically, it’s spot on, and it has the added value of appealing to our primary constituency, Southern Baptists.
“Both our doctrinal convictions and our missiological clarity have accelerated our growth because everyone knows precisely who we are, what our theological convictions are, and what we see as our chief ambition – to train pastors, ministers, and evangelists for the church.”
Other steps Allen attributes to the seminary’s significant growth include: implementing aggressive enrollment goals; expanding Midwestern Seminary’s reach through its online master’s and undergraduate degree offerings; building the student body with robust numbers of Korean, Hispanic, and African American students; fundamentally rebuilding the school’s student recruiting, retention and institutional communication and marketing efforts; continuing to “fly our evangelical colors boldly,” and being a confessional institution that is committed to historic Christianity and Baptist distinctives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is the executive assistant to the president at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)