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Enrollment passes 10,000 mark at Southern Baptist seminaries

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Combined student enrollment for
the 1997 fall semester at Southern Baptists’ six seminaries
surpassed the 10,000 mark, with only one of the schools
reporting a decline in enrollment, seminary officials
report.
Total enrollment stands at 10,090, an increase of 335
students and a 3.4 percent increase over the 1996 fall
enrollment of 9,755. Enrollment at SBC seminaries accounts
for approximately 14 percent of all students pursuing
theological education in the United States and Canada, based
on a comparison of statistics from a recent accrediting
agency report.
“Clearly, in a day when many seminaries are in decline,
and some denominations are considering the future viability
of their seminaries, Southern Baptists can be proud to have
six strong and thriving seminaries serving our churches by
training ministers and missionaries of the gospel,” said R.
Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary and chairman of the Council of Seminary Presidents.

“This report demonstrates without question the strength
of the six Southern Baptist seminaries. We continue to be
grateful for the support of Southern Baptists in sending us
their students, supporting us by prayer and undergirding our
work through the Cooperative Program,” Mohler added.
The SBC seminaries officially compare fall-to-fall
enrollment statistics based on the “non-duplicating
headcount” of students enrolled in basic degree programs,
pre-baccalaureate programs and classes for academic credit.
In 1993, the seminaries began jointly reporting their
combined fall student enrollment through Baptist Press using
registration data finalized in October. This academic year,
to account for varied registration schedules at the six
schools, the Council of Seminary Presidents agreed to report
student enrollment at the conclusion of the fall semester.
The largest percentage increase was enjoyed again by
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest,
N.C., with 1,495 students, 10.5 percent more than 1996. Its
second consecutive year of record fall enrollments,
Southeastern enrolled 142 more students than the previous
year.
“Any institution would be thrilled to death to have a 2
or 3 percent increase in enrollment anytime,” said
Southeastern President Paige Patterson. For the past three
years, Southeastern has been the fastest-growing seminary in
the country and this year is expected to rank in the top
five, Patterson said. “I’m somewhat dumbstruck about it. I’m
at a loss to explain it. God’s been better to us than we
deserve.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.,
increased its enrollment by 9.6 percent, with a total of
1,801 students. Southern Baptists’ oldest seminary enrolled
158 more students than the 1996 fall semester.
“We are greatly encouraged by the significant growth in
Southern Seminary’s enrollment,” Mohler said. “We firmly
believe that the quality of theological education and the
clarity of conviction represented by Southern Seminary will
be supported by our churches as ministers, missionaries and
evangelists come for theological education and ministry
training. The past year has seen Southern Seminary grow in
several dimensions beyond anything represented by these
statistics. We are very thankful to God for his blessings
upon Southern Seminary, and we are evermore committed to
serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City,
Mo., reported an 8 percent increase, with 696 students
enrolled, 53 more than the previous year.
“Our aim is not so much to grow as to be utterly
faithful to the task of building a faculty of anointed,
soul-winning inerrantists who will educate God’s servants to
biblically evangelize and congregationalize the
Midwest/Great Plains region,” said President Mark Coppenger.
“Our most dramatic growth has come in the student wives
program, led by my wife, Sharon, and Tammi Ledbetter, wife
of dean of students Gary Ledbetter.”
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, enrollment
increased 5.31 percent, with 1,904 students enrolled, 96
more than the previous year.
“We are rejoicing in our 80th academic year at New
Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as we continue to equip
leaders to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great
Commandments through the local church and its ministries,”
said Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president since March 1996.
“And we are rejoicing as the number of new students
continues to grow through our new degree programs, such as
the M.Div. in psychology and counseling and the M.A. in
marriage and family counseling, as well as the M.Div. in
music. In addition, our 21-year-old College of Undergraduate
Studies is in ever-increasing ways meeting the needs of
those called to the ministry later in life, as evidenced by
our exciting graduation service Jan. 8 at the Louisiana
State Penitentiary.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth,
Texas, Southern Baptists’ largest seminary, saw its
enrollment go up 3 percent, for a total of 3,166 students,
89 more than 1996.
President Kenneth Hemphill commented, “We’re excited
about the continued growth of Southwestern Seminary. God is
mobilizing a great spiritual army for the coming great
awakening. Our increase proves the confidence Southern
Baptists place in Southwestern to train effective ministers
for his service. We pledge to be good stewards of that
trust.”
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley,
Calif., was the only school to report a decrease in
enrollment. With an enrollment of 1,028 this fall, 15
percent less than 1996, Golden Gate dipped by 192 students.
Its first decrease in recent years, seminary officials
attribute the decline in enrollment primarily to not
offering two special classes in the seminary’s music program
and leadership transitions in the Ethnic Leadership
Development program.
“While final enrollment did not meet our early
projections for an overall increase in for-credit work, we
are greatly excited by the growth trend we see in new
students coming to all our campuses and to our Mill Valley
residential campus especially,” said President William O.
Crews. “God has entrusted this seminary with the lives of
students who will lead strategic ministries in diverse
cultural settings around the world. Our seminary faculty is
looking forward to helping these men and women grow
spiritually and to developing their character and competency
in ministry as we strive to fulfill the ministry God has
given us of shaping effective Christian leaders for the
churches of tomorrow.”
Although an approximate comparison, a recent report of
the Association of Theological Schools in the United States
and Canada indicates the 1997 fall semester enrollment of
the six SBC seminaries is about 14 percent of all 233
schools accredited by ATS. The 1996-1997 “Fact Book on
Theological Education” reports 1996 student enrollment in
all schools accredited by ATS at a total of 68,702.
Mohler, on behalf of the Council of Seminary
Presidents, commented on the critical importance of
Cooperative Program support to the SBC seminaries.
“The quality of Southern Baptist theological education
represented by the six seminaries and the accessibility of
our programs to students is entirely dependent upon the
financial support of churches through the Cooperative
Program,” he said. “There is no way that the seminaries
could serve the mission assigned us by the Southern Baptist
Convention without that vital support which allows us to
make seminary education possible and accessible for the
future generations of Southern Baptist ministers and
missionaries.”

Craig Bird, Cameron Crabtree, Debbie Moore, Lee Weeks and
Clinton Wolf contributed to this story.