Lincoln Christian University plans major changes and will end some programs | Education
LINCOLN — Lincoln Christian University plans to make major changes to its operation, eliminating most of its undergraduate programs over the next few years as it focuses on its graduate and seminary programs.
The school is not closing but changing how it operates, officials said. Current students will still be able to complete their studies, but the school will stop enrolling new students in most of its undergraduate programs after this school year. Sports programs will also end after this school year.
The university has always been an undergraduate college with an attached seminary, but recent years have seen an increase in enrollment in seminary and graduate programs, President Silas McCormick said. The plan is to follow these trends more directly.
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“Essentially what we’re doing is becoming a seminary with undergraduates as well,” he said.
While undergraduate degrees will still be offered, he estimated enrollment will be around 50 students.
According to a memorandum released last month outlining the planned changes, the university will soon offer only two bachelor’s degrees: a bachelor of arts in Bible and theology and a bachelor of arts in Christian ministry. It will offer seven master’s programs, including the consolidation of three current offerings into a single master of arts in theology.
The university will also stop offering its doctorate in ministry. Churches served by the university generally do not require a doctorate for ministers and often do not require a master’s degree either. The doctoral program has seen low enrollment in recent years, McCormick said.
“There’s not a lot of motivation to do a doctorate (…) as a result, we have good students in our doctorate in ministry program but we don’t have many,” he said.
McCormick acknowledged that students, especially those involved in athletics, might want to transfer. To that end, the school is putting in place transfer agreements with other colleges and universities, he said.
He expects the university to have about 50 undergraduate students and an overall enrollment of about 300 students, up from more than 500 currently.
The changes will likely affect the school’s Lincoln campus as well, McCormick said.
“We don’t have to sell the campus per se, but we have to do something different,” he said.
There has been frustration and even anger from some people since the changes were announced, he said. Overall, however, he was impressed with the grace with which most people seem to have accepted the changes. Given the recent closures of other independent Christian colleges, people seem happy that LCU is considering a different path, he said.
LCU will also work closely with specific churches, including Eastview Christian Church in Normal, West Side Christian Church in Springfield, and Harvest Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri, to deliver its programs. Many students are already adult learners who work in churches, which can help them gain real-world experience as they graduate, McCormick said.
Some of LCU’s courses include a week of intense in-person study over an entire semester of online classes, McCormick said. In the future, these weeks could be organized by partner churches.
Churches will also help by providing internship and experience opportunities, as well as providing real-world feedback on what students need to learn, he said.
Title IX Investigation
At the same time as the plans are made public, the school is also embroiled in a federal discrimination case stemming from a complaint by transgender student Kalie Hargrove. Hargrove worked with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) to file the complaint.
She said the university told her to withdraw or face disciplinary action after the school learned she was transgender, according to a REAP statement.
Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities. The regulations apply to all public and private schools and universities that receive federal funds must comply, but some specific exemptions are allowed. One concerns religious schools who can request exemption from regulations contrary to their religious beliefs.
REAP is suing the federal Department of Education to end the religious exemption.
Online records from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights indicate that there is a case under investigation against Lincoln Christian University (still named Lincoln Christian College and Seminary in federal records). The investigation was opened on January 7.
The university issued a press release on Jan. 26 saying it had been made aware of the investigation and was responding to it.
McCormick told the Pantagraph that the school has since responded and is now awaiting a response from the Civil Rights Office.
The timing of the Title IX deal and the planned changes are coincidental, McCormick said. Still, the memo outlining the plan mentions the Title IX case and says the school hopes to reach a point where it could generate enough revenue to be exempt from federal funding and any changes to funding requirements.
Sudden and long-term causes
Other recent events contributed more directly to the timing of the announcement, McCormick said. The school has lost about 10% of its fall semester enrollment to spring semester, largely due to dissatisfaction with Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements, a he declared.
This loss of students was sudden, but the school has been experiencing declining enrollment for about a decade, the memo says. There were over 1,000 students in fall 2012, including 678 undergraduates and 388 graduate and seminary students.
In 2021, fall enrollment was 537. Most of the loss is in undergraduate enrollment. Only 184 students lived in the dorms this fall, making it seem on campus that the school is even smaller than it already is, the memo said.
Along with declining enrollment, the LCU has run a deficit for the past six years and is expected to run a deficit again this year. The last major surplus was in the 2012-13 fiscal year, when the school was in the black at $808,000. The following year it ran $414,000 in the red.
The memo is bleak about the university’s potential if it didn’t make meaningful changes.
“We think we’ve reached the end of our track in our current model,” he said.
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Contact Connor Wood at (309) 820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood
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