Rethinking What It Means to Be a Full-Time Student

October 6, 2014

As we move into a new paradigm of theological education, it may be time for us to reconsider the traditional definition of a full-time student.

While the definition of a full-time student can vary from school to school, each school creates the definition based on the number of credit hours a student completes in a given term. The number tends to move between 9 and 15 credits, depending on the school, and is traditionally connected to the number of hours a student spends in a classroom.

When added to the myriad of things clamoring for an individual’s time, the life of a traditional full-time student is hectic, draining, and truly difficult to maintain without becoming burned out.* The disintegrated nature of theological education has developed a system where seminary is something that is added on rather than integrated into a student’s life and ministry. Given this reality, it is not surprising that the M.Div. graduation rate for the “industry” could be around 41%. Is there a better way for students to graduate in a reasonable period of time without learning how to burnout of ministry?

Every student in the Kairos Project at Sioux Falls Seminary is a full-time student. However, they are not full-time students in the traditional sense. Again, a traditional full-time student spends 12-15 hours per week in a classroom and then participates in ministry, work, and life outside of seminary. In the Kairos Project model, a student’s personal development process is fully integrated into his or her life and ministry. Class simply functions differently in this new paradigm. The student is required to have a concurrent and continual ministry context while earning their degree. That context is intentionally integrated into his or her progression toward the specific outcomes of a program. Rather than seminary being added onto the life of a student, the journey of theological education is woven throughout the experiences of the individual’s life and ministry.

In this new track, made possible through the Kairos Project, students complete the same amount of coursework as students pursuing their degrees in the traditional format. However, because the course work is more fully integrated into ministry, it is not intended to be a separate experience. As a student progresses through the year in their ministry context, he or she is also progressing through assessments, outcomes, and courses for the degree program. A mentor team, including a member of our faculty, guides the learning experience.

Biblical study, ministry reflection, practical application, and spiritual formation should be a part of every day in the life of a minister of the gospel. The Kairos Project simply provides a framework to guide and develop students while they are participating in the Mission of God. Because it is not built around the chronological progression through courses, the Kairos Project allows students the opportunity to dive deeply into topics, discussions, learning experiences, and biblical reading that are relevant to their current challenges in ministry.

As our first cohort of students progress through the Kairos Project, we will likely learn more about how to integrate life, ministry, and theological education. For me, it starts with reconsidering the definition of a full-time student. What do you think?

*Data from ATS indicates that 81% of incoming M.Div. students work while attending seminary. In fact, 64% of full-time M.Div. students work more than 10 hours per week. Fully, 44% of incoming full-time M.Div. students work more than 15 hours per week.

Full-time M.Div. students spend 36 hours per week on coursework (assuming a 12 credit-hour course load) and more than 10 hours on a job. 44% of full-time M.Div. students are working more than 15 hours a week. For the majority of full-time M.Div. students, the total number of hours between work and school now ranges between 46- 51. In addition, student’s devote time to ministry, family, hobbies, reflection with God, travel time (two-thirds of incoming students commute), and other general aspects of being a student.

The majority of students are actively engaged in ministry while they are in seminary, and half of them are married. 25% expect to be bivocational. When all these time commitments are taken into account, it is not surprising to see a decline in the number of traditional full-time students at many seminaries.

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