Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (MBTS) fall trustee meeting focused on gratitude for enrollment gains amid difficult circumstances as well as celebration of faculty elections and reelections.
Due to continued diligence over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 19 meeting was held virtually via Zoom with board members joining in from across the nation.
During his president’s report, Jason Allen reminded trustees of the current state of higher education and reported record enrollment gains.
Allen said enrollment is up significantly, with hours taken increasing by around 12% in comparison to fall 2019. He expressed thankfulness to God for continued enrollment gains despite the pandemic and the nation’s current economic environment.
“We fully understand the environment in which we are operating,” Allen said. “We live in a time when institutions of higher learning across our country are faced with mounting challenges due to demographic changes, COVID-19 and the current economic climate. In many ways, the tide is currently going out on higher education in America.
“We remain in a season of sustained enrollment growth. That makes us all the more grateful to God for His continued favor on our work, and for the confidence Southern Baptists continue to place in us. Over the past academic year, we enrolled a total of 4,374 students, compared to 4,000 for the 2018-19 academic year. Our continued focus is the residential M.Div., but our degree programs continue to flourish, particularly doctoral studies as well as our undergraduate and graduate online studies.”
Trustee business included a review of the seminary’s financial position, endowment performance and organizational structure as well as the election of four professors to the faculty, the re-election of two professors and approval of an updated conflict of interest policy.
As of Sept. 30, net tuition and fee revenue was up 11.2% year over year, and total institutional revenue was up 8.2% over the same time period. Midwestern’s endowment return for the 2019-20 academic year was 5.8%.
The trustees received updates on a number of changes to job titles throughout the seminary. These were undertaken to more accurately reflect the functions of the positions, including their budgetary and supervisory responsibilities, and after a review of peer institutions.
In recommendations coming from the Academic Committee, the trustees elected Geoffrey Chang as assistant professor of historical theology; Andrew King as assistant professor of biblical studies; Patrick Schreiner as assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology; and Charles Smith as assistant professor of Christian leadership.
The committee also reelected Radu Gheorghita as professor of biblical studies and Matthew Swain as associate professor of worship ministries. Professors Jason DeRouchie and Owen Strachan were approved for sabbatical for 2021.
Allen told the board how the seminary community is coping with operations amid the pandemic. He explained that throughout the first half of fall semester, the institution has experienced only “a minor number of COVID-19 cases, and, thankfully, none of those have been critical in nature.”
Additionally, he said the school continues to be diligent in adhering to local health guidelines in social distancing as well as in keeping the campus clean and disinfected.
“We’ve taken very seriously the local health guidelines when it comes to keeping our students, faculty and staff as safe as possible,” Allen said. “Equal to training our students toward becoming the next generation of pastors and ministry leaders, the health and safety of everyone on campus has been our primary focus.”
Allen said measures being taken include the educational model known as residential-plus, which allows for students to attend courses both in class or via synchronous technology like Zoom. In larger classes, the group is divided to alternate days in the classroom or to participate via Zoom.
This format also allows students who don’t feel well or don’t feel safe in the classroom to join the class sessions via Zoom and take in the full lectures and classroom activities from another location.
Allen said the campus dynamic has changed somewhat this semester, but he’s thankful for the opportunity to still hold chapel services on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – dividing the attendees in half for social distancing measures. He added that Spurgeon College was also able to hold most of the matches in its inaugural volleyball season – hosting games in the Mathena Student Center and traveling regionally to take on other opponents.
He added that he is pleased that Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College have been able to hold classes on campus, noting that studies have shown “a significant decrease in enrollment” for institutions that have conducted courses solely online.
The next trustee board meeting is planned for April 2021.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is assistant professor of communications and history at MBTS.)