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Theological colleges report continued drop in grasp of divinity levels

(RNS) — Skilled levels are gaining traction at theological colleges throughout the U.S. and Canada, whereas the normal ministerial diploma, the grasp of divinity, is faltering, based on new knowledge launched late final month.

However Chris Meinzer, senior director and chief operation officer of The Affiliation of Theological Faculties, famous that general enrollment at ATS colleges has remained steady and that the grasp of divinity diploma isn’t dying. As an alternative, he mentioned, the M.A. diploma is interesting to extra college students.

The Affiliation of Theological Faculties, an umbrella group with over 270 member colleges, reported an uptick in physician of ministry and different skilled doctoral applications designed to reinforce a minister’s sensible expertise.

Primarily based on enrollment numbers reported by almost 90% of faculties, projected enrollment for doctoral and related applications in 2022 was 12,300 college students, a 4% enhance from fall 2021 and a notable 24% enhance from fall 2018, according to the ATS.  

The Grasp of Arts diploma, a two-year program that trains college students for a variety of professions, together with doctoral research, nonprofit work and lay ministry, has additionally seen a refined enhance of 1% since fall 2021, and 5% since fall 2018, based on fall 2022 projections. The ATS reviews that enrollment in M.A. applications is now on par with enrollment in grasp of divinity applications for the primary time in ATS historical past, based on fall 2022 projections.

Chris Meinzer. Photograph courtesy of ATS

The grasp of divinity diploma — a three-year program sometimes chosen by college students pursuing ordination — continues to say no. The projected enrollment for fall 2022 is 28,000 grasp of divinity college students, a 4% lower from fall 2021 and 9% decline since fall 2018. Grasp of divinity applications nonetheless represent 35% of enrollment at theological colleges general, per fall 2022 projections. That’s a major decline from the 43% of whole enrollment for grasp of divinity levels a decade in the past.

Meinzer mentioned a number of components steer college students towards Grasp of Arts applications. In some Christian contexts, he mentioned, the grasp of divinity is now not required for ordination. The 2-year diploma might also entice college students over the sometimes three-year grasp of divinity diploma as a result of it requires much less time and fewer of a monetary funding. Others may be interested in particular grasp’s diploma applications. 

“There’s a lot of creativity taking place inside our colleges,” Meinzer identified. Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, for example, added a totally on-line Grasp of Arts in Justice and Advocacy program in fall 2021. 

General enrollment at theological colleges stays regular, a powerful feat, famous Meinzer, amid altering spiritual tendencies and demographic challenges in greater training. Nonetheless, 57% of ATS colleges reported declining enrollment, a pointy rise from 2020, when 46% of ATS colleges confirmed enrollment decreases.

Meinzer pointed to colleges’ pivot to on-line lessons as one cause. He mentioned roughly 95% of ATS colleges went fully on-line in 2020. The return to in-person examine may very well be negatively impacting enrollment.  

The brand new ATS knowledge is proof of broader changes in North America’s spiritual panorama. Many theological colleges are adapting to satisfy the wants of scholars claiming religious identities other than spiritual establishments. This spring, Graduate Theological Union, a 60-year-old consortium of California seminaries and bible study facilities, launched a brand new on-line studying hub for interreligious activism during which college students can examine on-line and pay little or no tuition. In October 2021, Hartford Seminary in Connecticut rebranded as Hartford Worldwide College for Faith and Peace, a reputation that higher displays the varsity’s offerings. The varsity doesn’t supply a grasp of divinity program and hasn’t ordained clergy for the reason that Seventies.

As theological establishments look to the longer term, Meinzer urged colleges to proceed to innovate to satisfy the wants of right now’s evolving spiritual scene.

“The world is altering, and we’d like leaders who can serve that altering world,” he mentioned. 

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