By Kedrick Nettleton, Faith Editor
For students of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, there’s a new reason to celebrate.
The department, which is headed by Dean Heath Thomas, has instituted partnerships with several seminaries across the country to provide a shorter pathway to a Master of Divinity. The idea allows students to skip past material in their master’s program that they’ve already received on Bison Hill, potentially bypassing 25 percent of their master’s education and saving them about six or seven thousand dollars, depending on the institution they plan on attending. This can turn a 3 to 5 year education into something more manageable for students.
The program at OBU comes at a time in America when the cost of higher education is a hot-topic issue, with many in the country crying out for reform. While much of the discontent revolves around undergraduate education, those pursuing graduate degrees face similar tuition costs. Don Davis, president of The Urban Ministry Institute, as quoted in a 2013 article by the Christian Post, says that the average cost of seminary education amounts to at least 35 thousand for many stu-dents.
“[It’s] out of control,” he said.
And while allowing students to save money is certainly on Dean Thomas’ mind, the main impetus for the idea came from his time working with students as Southeastern Seminary, as director of the seminaries Ph.D. program. Thomas remembers hearing many students complain of redundancy in their education.
“I saw students, even OBU students, coming into Southeastern, saying ‘Gosh, we’ve had a lot of this stuff, and now we have to take it again. We feel like we’re wasting time and money, and there’s no need to do that,’” Thomas said.
What allows a program like this to succeed, in Thomas’ mind, is the extremely high quality of an undergraduate degree from OBU.
“Oklahoma Baptist University has a very good reputation academically,” he said. “What I wanted to do in this program is take the best of the education that we have at OBU and recognize the… level of work done, and provide some very intentional partnerships, where we do a course by course evaluation and formalize it that so that students who come from OBU can essentially step into year two [at a seminary].”
The idea of partnerships between undergraduate universities and seminaries is a fairly new one, but it’s something that’s been in Thomas’ head for years.
“I thought about it a long time ago, when I was working at Southeastern,” he said. “But when I got here, it was a priority.”
That priority has been taking shape for about a year, and the program is currently in effect with two seminaries, with more agreements and partnerships forthcoming.
Thomas says that finding partnerships with willing seminaries hasn’t been difficult, as many are willing to partner with undergraduate entities.
“The biggest hurdle in all of these things is working through your accreditation agencies,” he said.
On a practical level, students looking to get the most out of the seminary partnerships will need to work closely with their advisors and mentors within Hobbs College.
“One of the ways this is going to flow is through our advisement culture,” Thomas said. “We can help shepherd our advisees through and help them think very critically and intentionally about the shape of ministry… What this does, it incentivizes students coming into our school… [They] have a pathway for a diverse educational experience at two different institutions… and it does it in a way that [they’re] not wasting time.”
More partnerships are forthcoming from the program, and Thomas is keen to expand this idea to its furthest potential.
“I want to provide as many outlets… as possible,” he said. “We’re working to try and give the best education and pathways for our students, where they can go where they want to go and do what they want to do, but they’re not breaking the bank or wasting their time. And that’s really important.”
Full information on the program can be found at http://www.okbu.edu/theology