Increasing and maintaining enrollment. That’s the task of every higher education school, and is especially challenging for theological institutions, many of which must function with limited resources in contrast to their secular counterparts.
The purpose of this article is to explore best-practice strategies for increasing the enrollment at theological institutions with limited resources. Organizational strategies that have been effective in increasing enrollment and the quality of the student body at other higher education institutions are the basis for most of the strategies.
The following strategies include not only a shift in organizational practice but also a change in organizational mindset. These strategies have been effective when applied at other universities.
1. Shift toward an Academic/Business Model:
Gumport (2001) argues that the best organizational type for higher education has shifted from a social institution to an industry. For instance, seen as an industry, the customers of universities are students, parents, churches, state legislatures, employers, and research funders, each having different preferences and needs.
Universities are asked to produce products for their customers: competitive programs, students with degrees, employees for the workplace, and cutting-edge research. As such, degree programs need to be made much more competitive and attractive, and new degree programs may need to be added.
Theological institutions need to ensure they are supplying products (degree programs) that are in demand among customers (students and churches). This requires incorporating the preferences and needs of customers and consumers into the administrative operation of the seminary and the design of the curricula as much as possible.
2. Shared Governance: Eugene Trani (1997) argues for a broader model of shared governance for universities.
Sectors of society beyond the university that have a stake in the university should also have a say in university decisions. Trani contends that a new type of university is forming that includes partnerships with industry, other private ventures, and other academic institutions. Hence, university leaders will become more like entrepreneurs who must establish and nurture partnerships outside the university.
Theological institutions could also benefit from a shared governance model, where the institution gives potential community partners and potential business partners seats at the governing table.
Institutions could also accomplish shared governance by creating a community advisory board to work with the president or dean to provide input for the direction of the seminary and its degree programs. Such shared governance would have an impact on enrollment, since more stakeholders would be invested in the success of the school as a part of the advisory board.
Invested in the success of the seminary, business partners, community partners, and church partners would be more inclined to work toward seeing an increase in enrollment.
3. Broaden Recruitment Efforts:
In addition to the current traditional recruitment efforts (graduate fairs and conference booths), theological institutions need to broaden recruitment in the following ways.
First, increase the social media presence, particularly on Facebook and, if possible, link online applications and a school e-newsletter to a Facebook page.
Second, seminaries need to establish and advertise their theological/ministry niche and the practical benefits of attending their particular school for ministry.
Third, theological institutions may look at partnering with other denominations (in addition to their own), associations, and businesses in offering Continuing Education classes.
4. Increase Continuing Education Offerings: The challenge for many seminaries is how to add continuing education programs with limited faculty resources.
One way to address this challenge is to recruit a cohort of 20–40 students who will all enroll in the same continuing education program/track while using current students and alumni to help facilitate the program. By recruiting this number of students, the school can ramp up with one new continuing education offering each semester or each year and add resources (adjunct faculty) as the enrollment increases.
5. Increase Online Offerings: Increasing offerings of online classes is critical if seminaries are to be viable academic institutions going forward.
Expanding online offerings could have the most significant effect on increasing enrollment at any higher education institution. Again, the challenge for theological institutions is how to increase online classes with limited faculty resources. The key could be to do so by recruiting online students similar to the method above for increasing continuing education offerings, where a group of 20 to 40 online students will all take the same courses each semester. This way the school only has to offer a few new online courses each semester or year as a new group of online students begins each semester or year until three to four years down the road the school will be offering the degree(s) fully online.
Enrolling such groups of online students will also allow the school to add resources (faculty or adjunct faculty) as needed as the online enrollment increases. This will result in the most significant increase in enrollment since the recruitment pool will be widened to students nationwide and possibly beyond.
Gumport, P.J. (2001). Restructuring: Imperatives and opportunities for academic leaders. Innovative Higher Education, 25(4), 239-251. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1011042522978
Trani, E.P. (1997). Creating a broader model of shared governance. The Chronicle of
Higher Education, 43(18), A72. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214731911?accountid=12725.