Saturday, October 28, 2023

Lincoln Christian University to Close; Lincoln Seminary Relocating to Ozark Christian College

Lincoln Christian University (LCU), a conservative evangelical institution, recently announced its impending closure, leaving students and employees to navigate the challenging transition. The closure is set for May 31, 2024, after years of struggling with budget shortfalls. In a last-ditch effort to save the university, LCU made significant changes, including dropping most undergraduate programs, selling part of its campus, and emphasizing online and hybrid programs. Unfortunately, these measures did not yield the desired enrollment boost.

One significant development stemming from LCU's closure is the transfer of its seminary programs to Ozark Christian College (OCC) in Joplin, Missouri. OCC will adopt the Lincoln name and operate as Lincoln Seminary at Ozark Christian College. This transition includes the transfer of Lincoln's $3.8 million student scholarship endowment to OCC.

For students currently enrolled in certain master's level programs at Lincoln, there is a silver lining. They will be able to seamlessly continue their studies at OCC with no loss of credit hours and no increase in tuition. These programs include the Master of Divinity degree, Master of Arts in Biblical Studies, Bible and Theology, and Ministry. However, this plan still awaits approval from accrediting bodies.

In addition, OCC will offer fully online options for all degrees, allowing students to complete their studies without having to relocate. This move is expected to provide students with a greater sense of financial security, reducing the likelihood of attrition in these majors. However, some master's level programs currently offered at Lincoln, such as counseling, organizational leadership, and theology, will not be continued at OCC. Students in these programs will need to explore other options or try to fit into existing OCC programs.

As LCU currently has 183 students, with 80 expected to graduate before the merger with OCC, a significant number of students will need to make decisions about their academic futures. It is anticipated that between a third to half of the remaining students will transition to OCC. For the rest, LCU is actively working on transfer partnerships with other universities to minimize disruption to their education. Many colleges have expressed interest in welcoming these students, recognizing the value they bring to their institutions.

On the other hand, LCU's employees are also facing uncertainty as the university winds down its operations. While OCC has made contact with some LCU employees, it remains unclear how many will be offered positions in Joplin. Some employees may choose to retire, while others may seek employment elsewhere. LCU has expressed a commitment to provide employees with as much notice as possible, allowing them to move on even before their contracts expire if they find new work.

However, the financial challenges persist, as LCU will still have $2.6 million in debt to retire by the end of the school year. The university has funding to complete the academic year, but this could change if a significant number of students transfer out or if giving decreases substantially. LCU is hopeful that it will be able to offer severance packages to employees who are let go, but this remains an ongoing topic of discussion.

For Universal Life Church (ULC) ministers seeking theological education and ministerial training, the closure of institutions like LCU can raise questions about alternative options. The ULC, known for its openness to diverse beliefs and backgrounds, provides various courses that cover a range of topics, including Biblical studies. These courses can be a valuable resource for ULC ministers looking to enhance their understanding of religious matters.

Additionally, ULC ministers have the option to attend unaccredited seminaries that accommodate diverse theological perspectives. Some notable unaccredited seminaries worth considering include Rockbridge Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, and Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Evansville, Indiana. These institutions offer lower-cost study modules and can be suitable for individuals focusing on church ministry or non-academic teaching roles.

Moreover, there are accredited seminaries that align with the inclusive ethos of the ULC. These institutions recognize and respect a broad range of beliefs, making them suitable options for ULC ministers seeking more formal theological education. Some accredited seminaries with open-minded approaches to theological education include the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, and the Community of Christ Seminary. These institutions offer various programs, including online and in-person options, allowing ULC ministers to tailor their education to their specific goals and commitments.

In conclusion, the closure of Lincoln Christian University presents a challenging situation for its students and employees. However, for Universal Life Church ministers seeking theological education and ministerial training, there are alternative options available, ranging from ULC courses to unaccredited and accredited seminaries. These choices empower ULC ministers to pursue their educational and ministerial aspirations in alignment with their diverse beliefs and backgrounds.

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