Letter from Fuller President announcing closure of Seattle, Menlo Park and Orange County campuses due to declining enrollment
Dear Fuller Alumni,
As I travel, I have the privilege of meeting Fuller alumni and hearing stories about alumni who are influencing the world through various vocations. It is truly inspiring. Since we consider alumni as lifelong partners in Fuller’s mission, I wanted to share with you reflections on changes we are seeing in theological education and the implications for Fuller.
We live in times of extraordinary change. Thomas Friedman speaks about this very graphically in his book, Thank You For Being Late when he refers to Moore’s Law about the speed of technological change. This Law that computing speed and capacity doubles every two years has been more or less true for the past 50 years, and has meant compound change for every one of our lives. To make Moore’s Law clearer, the Intel company calculated that if we owned a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle and allowed Moore’s Law to change it in the same way we have experienced its impact on computing this would be the result: the VW Bug would now travel at 300,000 miles per hour, a gallon of gas would take us 2 million miles, and the car would now cost 4¢. Astounding!
These changes have affected all parts of life, but they have had exceptional influence on education and educational technology. It explains both how and why online education has become so powerful and prominent and how this is disrupting our work at many of our regional campuses.
Along these lines, I wanted to share a portion of a notification to students about transitions on regional campuses that was sent out on July 17, 2017 from Fuller’s Provost Joel Green:
In the 1970s, Fuller Seminary pioneered distance education among theological schools by opening the first of a series of regional campuses. This innovation would eventually allow Fuller Seminary to set down deep roots in Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and, of course, California – serving God’s kingdom by equipping students for ministry in and beyond local congregations. Other innovations would follow, including independent distance learning; two, three, and four-way audio-video courses; and online courses. Advances in educational technology have led to an ever-widening range of modalities by which we have aimed at a transformative learning experience for our students.
In 2010, the Fuller Seminary faculty voted to mainstream online education by adopting a faculty-intensive approach to teaching and learning and by raising the number of units our students could complete online. At the time, we wondered if we might be able to offer 100 courses online, with room for enrollments of 2500 each year. We could not have imagined that, today, we would be contemplating 260 courses online, with enrollments reaching some 6500 in a year. Nor could we have anticipated the mile marker we reached in the 2016 Fall Quarter, when Fuller Online out-enrolled all other Fuller Seminary campuses.
Because Fuller Online has prompted an expansion of our global footprint, these are exciting times for a seminary community “dedicated to the equipping of men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church” across the US and, indeed, throughout the world. Unfortunately, at the same time, the significant increase in online enrollment has been matched by a decrease in enrollment on our geophysical campuses. To offer one snapshot, while Winter Quarter online enrollment has increased by almost 50% from 2013-17, enrollment on our Regional Campuses has decreased by about 30% during the same period. This shift from our geophysical classes to online brings with it certain challenges. Primary among those is the increasing difficulty of attracting enough students to foster a genuine learning community in some of our Regional Campus classrooms – a difficulty that has had a negative impact on the financial sustainability of some of our Regional Campus efforts.
Accordingly, we have decided to take steps to close our campuses in Seattle, Menlo Park, and Orange County, and to discontinue offering the MDiv, MAT, MATM, and MAICS degree programs in Phoenix. We will maintain a Regional Campus in Phoenix, where we will continue to offer the MFT program. Pending approval from the Association of Theological Schools, this decision will be effective 30 September 2019.
We had already repurposed our Regional Campus in Colorado Springs to offer Hybrid Plus courses for the MAICS, MAT, MATM, and MDiv degrees, but Hybrid Plus course offerings in Colorado Springs will be discontinued after the 2018 Summer Quarter.
With the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, then, Fuller Seminary will be offering courses in Pasadena, Houston, Phoenix (MFT), Colorado Springs (MAGL and courses for Young Life students), and online.
As we talk about the significant shift of students choosing online options, it is important to acknowledge that online courses are not everyone’s preference. It is also the case that regional campuses are not just class-sites. Friendships and ministry partnerships have been an invaluable part of our regional campus ministries. This makes closing some of our regional campuses more painful, even if the trajectory is not sustainable.
It is also important to highlight that in recent years, we have increased our investment in the holistic formation of our students. Along these lines, faculty and staff are actively pursuing various opportunities to provide formation in creative ways for students who have chosen to take their courses primarily online. In fact, we are working to capitalize on the unique formation opportunities made possible by students pursuing theological education while remaining embedded in their church, ministry, communities, and jobs.
As we phase out certain regional campuses and programs, we will be working with each student impacted by these decisions to come up with a plan to complete their degree. We are also not backing away from Fuller’s commitment to a regional presence, but we are retooling for a different world. In each region, we will explore opportunities with churches, ministries, and nonprofit organizations to serve as a training and formation partner. Based on the needs of these organizations, we will provide an array of learning opportunities through online, intensive, and hybrid modalities.
We understand that for alumni whose primary formation experience was at a regional campus, the decision to close campuses and programs is a source of sadness and grief. The leadership team of the seminary shares this sense of loss and wrestled through the difficult decisions with careful analysis over an extended period of time. As we mourn the loss, it is also important to celebrate the rich history and remarkable impact of these campuses and programs. Along these lines, I will visit each region prior to September 2019 to host a gathering for students, alumni, supporters, and friends to celebrate God’s work in these learning communities. We will send out details in a future communication.
Fuller’s board of trustees is seeking to do all that is necessary to secure a flourishing future for the seminary. In fact, the board, together with the faculty and staff, has set aside Tuesdays from now through October as days when as a community we can pray and fast as we seek God’s guidance for Fuller’s future. We invite you to join us in asking God for his wisdom in this season of rapid change.
Thank you again for your continued partnership in the mission!