Kuyper GR Theological Seminary put students on fast track

February 13, 2012
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Heavy student loan debt and awareness that there already are other graduate programs from which students can earn their master’s degree in a shorter amount of time are the dual rudders steering a new direction for two area Christian higher learning institutions.

A consortium agreement between Kuyper College and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary will enable pre-seminary students to earn a bachelor of science degree from Kuyper and a master of divinity from GRTS — and shave off one year from the time usually required to earn both diplomas.

The arrangement will enable pre-seminary students to journey through the bachelor of science at Kuyper and master of divinity at GRTS in six years rather than the usual seven.

“The push in higher ed is to tighten degrees, not to expand them, because efficiency in cost matters to students with debt issues,” said John VerBerkmoes, vice president and academic dean of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, a division of Cornerstone University.

“We recognize there are overlapping curriculums (between Kuyper and GRTS) and we need to create structures to facilitate the quicker completion for the students. In our case, it’s 94 credits for a master of divinity degree, and across the country it’s in the 75 range. We want to make sure to maintain its viability by being sensitive to the fact that some students have built solid foundations in biblical studies in undergraduate degrees, and we wanted to find those overlapping areas to make the journey as efficient as can be so (master of divinity) can be a choice for them.”

The agreement will, on average, pertain to 25 percent of the seminary's 328 students who are intent on earning a master of divinity degree and going to study for their doctorate or become ordained pastors of churches, missionaries and church planters in the United States and to nations far and wide, said VerBerkmoes. This is the second consortium agreement GRTS has reached with an undergraduate college;its first is with Cornerstone University.

But this is not an example of higher learning institutions lowering the intellectual rigors of their curricula, said VerBerkmoes.

“We’re aligning the degrees but not at the expense of quality of the degree,” said VerBerkmoes. “The heart of the (master of divinity) degree is for those who will preach and teach regularly in congregations, and it will serve those going in doctrinal work and those as church planters and missionaries, but the main target of the degree is senior, lead pastors. It’s a costly degree and it’s in a market that’s pushing the other way, pushing toward narrower, shorter, more efficient and less rigorous.”

Administrators at Kuyper College and GRTS will enable pre-seminary students to earn their master of divinity degree a year sooner through advance placement and advance standing, said VerBerkmoes.

Advance placement allows Kuyper students in their junior or senior year to start enrolling in graduate level courses at GRTS while they’re still undergraduate students, all of which will earn them graduate level credit. Advance standing includes credit transfers granted to students after they complete a competency exam.

Pre-seminary students who feel a call to the ministry and who earn an undergraduate degree from Kuyper should not let the term “bachelor of science” throw them, said Nicholas Kroeze, president of the independent Reformed Kuyper College. A B.S. diploma from Kuyper is more akin to a specialized undergraduate degree with a concentration in Bible and theology. Three hundred students are enrolled at Kuyper.

“What’s really exciting about this is we’ve been looking for ways to come alongside the church in a more supportive way to provide pastors in a more expedient way,” said Kroeze. “There’s a need for more church workers, and we discovered with our unique curriculum we can get students through the program up to a year quicker, and that gets people out there to fill vacancies much quicker.”

It’s the second consortium agreement Kuyper has reached with a seminary in town, said Kroeze. Calvin Theological Seminary was Kuyper’s first.

“A number of our students go to Grand Rapids Theological Seminary as well as Calvin, so we try to serve both institutions as well as possible,” said Kroeze.

“We highly value collaborative relationships with other institutions and the more we can work together, the stronger we become and the better service we provide our students. We’re all about collegiality and ways to strengthen each other.”

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