On Jan. 26, 2023, the University Senate met virtually for its first bi-annual meeting of 2023. During the meeting, the Senate voted to approve a policy change that allows United Methodist students the opportunity to engage in a fully online Master of Divinity degree program. This policy change is effective immediately for all 13 United Methodist seminaries as well as Asbury Theological Seminary. The shift to providing a fully online Master of Divinity degree will help to expand opportunities for United Methodists students all over the world. While some students will still prefer an in-person or a hybrid program, students who need more flexibility in their lives will find this new policy change extremely helpful. This policy change creates increased accessibility, which will help to further strengthen theological education offered at United Methodist seminaries.
The decision to provide more choices for United Methodist theological education comes not too long after the Association for Theological Schools (ATS) changed its policy regarding online Master of Divinity degrees. While Covid-19 played a role in accelerating the policy change approval, providing an academically competitive program and quality educational experience for all United Methodist students remains a priority. “The United Methodist seminaries who are able to offer the online Master of Divinity degree will be able to educate and shape United Methodist leaders across the country and even the world. Students will have more options for accessing theological education. This can only strengthen our United Methodist churches and ministries,” said Rev. Kim Ingram, Director of Ministerial Services of the Western North Carolina Conference.
As theological education continues to evolve, United Methodist institutions must evolve with an everchanging academic environment. Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, Chair of the Commission on Theological Education remarked, “United Methodist theological education must keep pace with these changes in order to be relevant and meet the needs of its diverse student population. The decision of the University Senate to offer a fully online Master of Divinity degree is a huge step to move this transformation forward and provide United Methodist students more options to access theological education at a United Methodist seminary.”
Established in 1892 as one of the earliest accrediting agencies in the United States, the University Senate is charged with reviewing Methodist-affiliated schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools. Ensuring these institutions maintain “institutional integrity, well-structured programs, sound management, and clearly defined Church relationships”. The Senate holds two meetings per year, with the January meeting being a virtual session.