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New Degrees Reflect a Changing Church

A study by the U.S. Department of Education reports benefits that support hybrid theological education.

the U.S. Department of Education found that strictly online classes were actually more effective in getting students to learn their material than were traditional face-to-face classes. The study also found that the most effective learning environment—more so than either online or residential programs—was one that combined real and virtual classrooms. This is the approach taken by Duke’s new D.Min. and M.A.C.P. programs.

For Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, this hybrid approach shows promise, though she wants to see it in action. “Through the years of my teaching, I have greatly enjoyed settings where I could work intensively with a class for a week,” she says. The response that she receives from those students confirms that intensive sessions have a long-lasting effect. The combination of intensive study at Duke with continued Web-based learning “seems to offer even more potential,” Davis says.

A third new degree, the one-year master of arts in Christian studies (M.A.C.S.), requires two semesters of traditional classroom study at the Divinity School, which remains committed to the residential model for its M.Div., M.T.S., and Th.M. degrees.

Hays says Duke will maintain a strong focus on residential education for the M.Div., the basic credential for ordination in the United Methodist Church. “We don’t plan to offer an online M.Div. It is crucial to be in residence here to receive the personal and spiritual formation necessary for ordained ministry.”

However, the experience of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business convinced him and his colleagues at the Divinity School that online education can be of high quality. “The outcomes in terms of student learning are at least as good as traditional programs,” Hays says. “Some skeptics, myself included, have become convinced that this is a viable way to create communities of learning.”

Extending Duke’s Vision

Associate Dean for Academic Formation and Programs Laceye Warner, who is also associate professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies, chaired the task force that led to the creation of the new degree programs. While there was unanimity among the faculty to pursue the new degree programs, the group also agreed on some non negotiables.

“We must maintain our commitment to scholarship, community, and to the Christian church,” says Warner. But there is room to explore how Duke could expand its impact in the church and the world.

The D.Min., a professional degree for career church leaders and a staple of theological education, has come under fire at some schools where boosting enrollment supplanted academic rigor.  “Duke’s degree will look different,” says Dean Hays. “Our degree program will be more engaging, and involve serious and enhanced study.”

According to Warner, the D.Min. will provide pastors an opportunity to think through problems in practical and theological ways and “will offer tangible steps and a network of other students to provide assistance.”

For Ron Hall, who graduated from Duke’s Trinity College in 1956 and from the Divinity School in 1959, having a doctor of ministry program at Duke is an exciting prospect. Hall said his own D.Min. from Emory University was a life- and career-changing experience.

“I was on the staff at Peachtree Road UMC (Atlanta, Ga.) and later at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte (N.C.),” says Hall. “The doctoral program revitalized my ministry in both theory and in practice in those mid-career days. I will always be grateful for that opportunity, and I’m very happy that it will be offered at Duke for others.”

Like the D.Min., the M.A.C.P. is a hybrid program that combines online coursework with intensive residency. The first cohort is designed for those engaged or interested in professional or lay ministry with youth, but who do not plan to seek ordination. Future sections of the M.A.C.P. are expected to attract other professionals, such as lawyers or health care workers.

The master of arts in Christian studies is a one-year residential program for students who seek a general, interdisciplinary approach to theological education. Not intended for those seeking the Ph.D. or ordination, the M.A.C.S. is for professionals and other students interested in theological education, and also for graduate students who seek to bring theological reflection into their vocational lives.

“I have been a New Testament professor for the past 20 years and have taught well over a thousand students in that period,” Craig Hill says. “I have deep respect for the model of residential theological education, especially for those entering ordained full-time pastoral ministry. But I have become aware of the need for a better-educated laity,