Religion

With more students streaming classes online, school plans to sell campus and find smaller facility

Southern Evangelical Seminary president Richard Land says the school, which has been “building-rich and cash-poor,” is making a change and will focus more on online learning.
Southern Evangelical Seminary president Richard Land says the school, which has been “building-rich and cash-poor,” is making a change and will focus more on online learning. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

With a majority of its students now taking classes online rather than on-site, Southern Evangelical Seminary is selling its 10.7-acre campus in Matthews and plans to move into a smaller facility next year.

Seminary president Richard Land said that when he came to the school four years ago, 60 percent of its students attended classes at the Matthews site and 40 percent took classes online. Now, he said, those percentages have been reversed: Of the 237 students who were enrolled in 2016-17, about 60 percent of them were online.

Most of the seminary’s classes are conducted on the campus at night – between 6 and 10 p.m., Land said. And three-fourths of the seminary’s online students stream those classes in real time.

“In streaming,” he said, “they can see and hear the professor, ask questions and interact with their fellow students online.”

The seminary will leave its 55,000-square-building, Land said, and is looking to relocate to a 30,000- to 35,000-square-foot facility somewhere in south Charlotte, Matthews or Union County. The move will likely happen next summer, after the 2017-18 school year ends.

“You can’t pick up and move on a dime,” said Land, who’s 70, especially when such a move will also involve relocating the school’s 80,000-volume library.

Land said the school is under contract to sell its Matthews property to Proverbs 31 Ministries, a non-denominational ministry for women led by Lysa TerKeurst, a speaker and best-selling Christian author based in the Charlotte area.

Southern Evangelical Seminary – a conservative inter-denominational school that teaches what Land calls “the full and complete authority of Scripture” – was founded in 1992 and offers mostly graduate-level courses for students interested in pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in ministry, divinity, philosophy and apologetics. Many of its students are pastors who want to get more education in Christian apologetics, or defending the faith using history, reason, evidence and philosophy.

The school also organizes a national conference on Christian apologetics that is usually held at Calvary Church in south Charlotte. Land said the conference will continue.

Higher education is undergoing a “technological revolution” spurred by online learning, Land said. And some of the money the seminary makes on the sale of its property can be invested in “state-of-the-art online delivery systems that would give us the highest quality to deliver our product anywhere in the world.”

Currently, he said, about 10 percent of the school’s students live overseas.

Land said that when he became president, the seminary was “building-rich but cash-poor,” which meant the school has been “living hand-to-mouth in terms of revenue.”

So, after planning and praying with the school’s trustees, he said, “we came to the conclusion that it would be better stewardship to relocate to a smaller facility and invest those resources” in an endowment and on boosting its fund-raising, recruitment and technology efforts.

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