This is a very difficult moment for American seminaries of all kinds. Across the country, they face declining enrollment and finances, resulting in significant layoffs of faculty and staff. Much of this stems from major long-term factors that posed growing challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn. Over the next few years, we should not be too surprised to see some once-significant schools of theology either merge or permanently close.
But within the United Methodist seminary world, two have been notable exceptions to these trends in financial and numerical health. They have also stood out for their comparative faithfulness to historic, biblical, orthodox Christian faith.
This fall, United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio has seen a major increase, of 17 percent, in new student enrollments compared to last year. Its total enrollment is now 446 students. In this era, it is no small thing for an American seminary to even maintain its numbers. United President Kent Millard was quoted as saying that the current pandemic may have actually helped the school’s enrollment, as this current climate has prompted some to recognize a call to ministries “where they can help others and bring a message of God’s hope.”
United’s commitments to the historic faith as expressed in the Nicene Creed and its embrace of the charismatic movement have set it apart from the UMC’s other 12 official U.S. seminaries. United recently began a new partnership with Mosaix Global Network, which is devoted to developing multi-ethnic congregations.
Then there is Asbury Theological Seminary. While not officially a United Methodist seminary, all of its presidents since 1994 have been United Methodist, it has many United Methodist faculty, and has recently, depending on the year, educated more new United Methodist clergy than any other or almost any other American seminary. With its formal commitments to biblical authority and historic Wesleyan doctrine, it has long been a bastion of evangelical Methodism. Its main campus is in Wilmore, Kentucky, but it has expanded to extension sites in Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and now, as of this semester, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Even with all the new curveballs from the novel Coronavirus, this fall Asbury saw its seventh straight year of increased new student enrollment. The fall 2020 semester is distinguished as having both the largest-ever number of new students (514) and, with record retention rates, the largest-ever total enrollment (1,806 students from 44 states and 50 countries). For fellow number-crunching geeks, there are now also a record number of credit-hours being taken at Asbury. Asbury President Timothy Tennent has celebrated the school’s reaching record numbers in new student enrollments, total students, and classes taken as a historic “triple crown” achievement.
Before the pandemic, both schools had extensively embraced virtual learning, which seems to have helped prepare both institutions for this unusual season.
Both schools are good options for faithful United Methodist seminarians.
The growing strength of these schools bodes well for the future as we prepare for the coming transition.
(UPDATE: An earlier version of this article characterized the 17 percent increase at United as being in total student enrollment, based on the original media report linked to above. We have since been informed that the original media report is not quite correct, as the 17 percent increase was specifically in new student enrollments, and so we have updated our language. We regret the misunderstanding.)