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Baptist seminary in Pa. closes doors, citing online education competition

By Jeff Brumley

ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS

A proliferation of available seminaries and the rise of distance learning has led a Baptist school in Lansdale, Pa. to close its doors after holding its final graduation ceremony last week.

According to a story published by The Reporter in nearby Towamencin, Pa., Calvary Baptist Seminary hosted its 35th and final graduation ceremony, handing degrees to 42 graduates. The school had been in operation for 38 years.

The decision to close the school was made in August 2013 due to a number of factors exacerbated by financial challenges, Samuel Harbin, Calvary president and professor of pastoral theology, told The Reporter.

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However, a conservative Christian blog site, In Defense of the Gospel, last year said the announced closure resulted from CBS’s drift “far from its foundational roots.” It had charted a course “far from the school’s fundamental, Baptistic, separatist heritage.”

But school officials described the issue as demographic and educational, not theological.

CBS-screenshotCalvary had been one of few similar seminaries in the Northeast at the time it opened in 1976, CBS Chancellor Timothy Jordan said. Today, there are five to six times the number there used to be, he said.

Lansdale is located about 35 miles north of Philadelphia.

More choices for students plus an increase in student debt have contributed to declines in enrollment, Jordan said.

Enrollment has also taken a hit from the increased popularity of online education.

“We do distance ed, but when there are other places who have done it longer and do it on a much grander scale, that’s far more appealing to the average student, who does almost everything online,” he said.

Harbin said the school felt limited in its ability to compete in distance education by the need to keep parts of seminary training on a face-to-face basis.

“There is the personal, spiritual formation piece that is part of a minister’s education,” Harbin said. “A lot of it happens outside the classroom in interaction with the faculty, not just in the classroom.”

The seminary will continue to legally exist for another year, since it is a ministry of Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, said Jordan. The facilities will be handed back over to the church and used for other ministries.

“The reality is we’ll have no problem using the space,” said Jordan, who is the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist.

Jeff Brumley is assistant editor of ABPnews/Herald.

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