By Paula Schlueter Ross
Fall enrollment at the Synod’s 10 colleges and universities continues to climb, hitting an all-time high this year of 28,421 — an increase of 967 graduate and undergraduate students, or 3.5 percent.
This marks the 19th consecutive year that Concordia University System (CUS) enrollment has grown, according to CUS staff.
The total number of graduate students grew by 3 percent — from 12,565 last year to 12,909 this year, an increase of 344 students. Undergraduate enrollment also climbed — from 14,889 to 15,512, a gain of 623 students, or 4 percent.
“You cannot discount the need for people to have a faith-based education,” said CUS spokesman the Rev. Dr. William Meyer. CUS schools, Meyer said, offer a Christian, Lutheran, high-quality education that is widely respected.
And today — with public universities increasing their tuition to offset decreases in government funding — costs between public and private universities are becoming more equal, he said. As a result, Meyer says more and more students are choosing a faith-based institution over a secular one because they know they’re going to get a quality education with an ethical, spiritual bonus. “I think that’s important to them,” he said.
But offsetting that good news is a concern: the number of students preparing for professional church careers is down by almost 10 percent — from 1,954 in 2010 to 1,762 this fall, a drop of 192 students.
“We don’t like to see that because it is our mission to prepare individuals for service in our churches and society,” Meyer said.
Portland’s online program
Eight of the 10 CUS schools saw increases in enrollment. Leading the pack is Concordia University in Portland, Ore., with a gain of 395 students, or 19 percent, for a total student body of 2,509.
Concordia Provost Dr. Mark Wahlers credits the “amazing growth” of the school’s Web-based Master of Education degree program for in-service teachers and administrators. Although the program has been offered online for a decade — complementing Concordia, Portland’s, M.Ed. on-campus and satellite programs around the state — the school only began promoting it in recent years, with assistance from an online educational service provider.
School districts “ask for our teachers, so they’re in high demand,” Wahlers told Reporter. Concordia, Portland, administrators thought they might be able “to share this really strong program of excellence with a broader market, and we decided ‘maybe we can take it global’ — and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Today the school’s online M.Ed. program has some 700 students in the U.S., Africa, Asia, Europe, South America — “all across the globe,” says Wahlers. The number of students in the program doubled since last year, and he expects it to double again in 2012.
Students work in cohorts, and can complete the program in a year. One important characteristic, notes Wahlers, is that the online M.Ed. program includes a strong faith component, just as the on- and off-campus programs do.
“We tell everybody that every teacher who graduates from Concordia is a Lutheran teacher, whether they go on to teach in Lutheran schools or not,” he said. Both graduate and undergraduate students study religion and are expected to do community service.
“Most of our students can recite our mission statement, at least the basic components of it: that Concordia is a Christian university preparing leaders to transform society.
“We include it in every class, it’s in every syllabus,” Wahlers said. “It’s something that we’re trying to live out in the curriculum.”
Next fall the university plans to open the first CUS law school — a three-year program based at its branch campus in Boise, Idaho. Wahlers says the first class is expected to total about 95 students.
This fall’s enrollments — including both graduate and undergraduate students — at individual CUS schools are as follows:
- Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich. — 711 (an increase of 43 students, or 6 percent, over fall 2010).
- Concordia University Texas, Austin, Texas — 2,658 (up 85, or 3 percent).
- Concordia College, Bronxville, N.Y. — 825 (up 48, or 6 percent).
- Concordia University, Irvine, Calif. — 3,251 (up 282, or 9 percent).
- Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis. — 7,618 (up 133, or 2 percent).
- Concordia University, Portland, Ore. — 2,509 (up 395, or 19 percent).
- Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill. — 5,134 (down 89, or 2 percent).
- Concordia College, Selma, Ala. — 719 (up 62, or 9 percent).
- Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. — 2,800 (down 42, or 1 percent).
- Concordia University Nebraska, Seward, Neb. — 2,196 (up 50, or 2 percent).
For more information about LCMS colleges and universities — and professional church-work careers — visit the website of LCMS University Education at www.lcms.org/cus.
Total enrollment this fall in all programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., combined is down — from 964 last year to 951 this year, a drop of 13 students, or 1 percent.
Total ordination-track enrollment at the Synod’s two seminaries also fell — from 767 in 2010 to 740 this year, a drop of 27 students, or 3.5 percent.
“It’s not a dramatic downturn,” notes the Rev. Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of LCMS Pastoral Education. “The challenges that have always existed for residential students have been heightened in the past few years because of the economic situation involved.”
Indeed, the number of residential students enrolled in programs leading to ordination at both seminaries also fell in the past year — from 545 to 491, with 54 fewer students, or a 10 percent decline.
But, on the flip side, the number of distance-education students in the ordination track keeps climbing. This year there are 249 — 27 more than last year.
Thomas noted that 34 percent of this fall’s ordination-track students are in distance-education programs, while 66 percent are in residential programs. Last year, those percentages were 29 and 71, respectively.
One reason for the boost in non-residential ordination-track students is the three-year-old Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program, which enrolled 30 more students this year, for a total of 157.
SMP students take most of their courses online while they serve a “specific ministry” in a congregation, mission plant or ethnic setting, which, as Thomas notes, precludes their enrollment in a residential program.
Thomas said distance and residential programs each have their own “blessings and benefits,” and future seminary programs may reflect “a greater mixing of the two,” incorporating the flexibility and hands-on ministry of the former with the consistency of instruction and community-building aspects of the latter.
Among highlights in this fall’s enrollment report, the total number of students enrolled in graduate programs at both seminaries has grown from 167 in 2010 to 175 this year, an increase of 8 students. That’s impressive, Thomas says, because that figure includes not only LCMS Lutherans but also pastors and leaders from LCMS partner churches around the world, enabling the Synod’s seminaries to “serve as centers for confessional Lutheranism globally.”
And, in St. Louis, the Center for Hispanic Studies added 5 students, for a total of 17.
As he considers this year’s seminary enrollment report, Thomas said he is “pleased that we have 740 men who are preparing to serve as pastors in our church body — that’s a tremendous blessing.”
Every ordination-track student, he added, is “an answer to the prayers of God’s people that He would raise up workers for His harvest field.”
Enrollment statistics for the seminaries individually are as follows:
- Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, reported a total enrollment of 630 students (16 more than last year), with 509 enrolled in programs leading to ordination, an increase of 6 students.
- Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., reported a total enrollment of 321 (29 fewer than last year), with 231 enrolled in programs leading to ordination (down 33).
Its student body includes 295 M.Div. students, 14 alternate-route pastoral students, 200 non-residential pastoral students and 23 deaconess students.
Its student body includes 175 M.Div. students, 7 alternate-route pastoral students, 49 non-residential pastoral students and 41 deaconess students.
For more information about the Synod’s seminaries, visit the LCMS Pastoral Education website at http://www.lcms.org/pastoraleducation.
Posted Oct. 26, 2011