The undergraduate program that successfully boosted enrollment at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has a new name: instead of “Southeastern College at Wake Forest,” which had caused some confusion about whether it was related to Wake Forest University, the school is now “The College at Southeastern.”
Twenty years ago, the idea of a seminary campus hosting an undergraduate college was rare. Many seminaries had “Associate Degree” programs for students who did not have a college education, but did not pretend to offer a full college education.
That has changed, at least in Southern Baptist life, where it’s more common than not for seminaries to host undergraduate colleges as feeder schools. The college at Southeastern was one of the first and most successful. A few years back, some trustees wanted to name it for former president Paige Patterson, who was instrumental in starting the trend. Since he was still president at the time, he appropriately declined the honor.
The school offers B.A. degrees in Christian studies, pastoral ministries, and missions. According to an article in Baptist Press, dean Peter Schemm said “One of the most appealing things about The College at Southeastern is that we are a college on the campus of a seminary, and our status as part of Southeastern Seminary allows our students to take advantage of academic programs, faculty resources and a way of life on campus that are not available at other undergraduate institutions.”
This reflects the insular mindset of today’s Southern Baptist education system that channels students into a narrow course of studies as opposed to a classic liberal arts education, where students have access to academic programs and faculty resources that might lead them to consider liberal ideas.
For most schools in the broader educational stream, it works the other way around. Many consider it more ideal for a divinity school campus to be associated with a university that offers many more options for study. Divinity schools at Campbell and Gardner-Webb universities, for example, offer combination degrees such as an MDiv-MBA or a combination MDiv and counseling degree. Many of the 15 seminaries or divinity schools affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship offer similar programs, and can do so because theological training is seen as a special area of studies within a broader spectrum of options.
Models that subsume a college within a seminary see undergraduate education as a focused step toward advanced theological training, rather than a learning experience with the broader base of options that one would find in a typical college or university setting.
I’m not suggesting that students can’t learn a lot at seminary-run colleges, but what they learn won’t have the breadth or offer the options to be found at colleges and universities where the theological cart can draw strength from a whole team of educational horses.