Two-thirds of all incoming MDiv students at ATS seminaries commute to class – regardless of their size, all seminaries seem to be regional schools.

78% of all incoming part-time MDiv students work more than 20 hours per week. 81% of ALL incoming MDiv students work while attending school.

During the 2011-2012 academic year (the most recently completed academic year), 6,900 incoming students at 161 different schools within ATS completed the Entering Student Questionnaire. This is the first of three inforgraphics which presents some of the data found in the 2011-2012 ESQ. I took the time to sift through the data to see what we can learn about incoming seminary students. Who are they? Why did they come to seminary? What did they bring to seminary? How can we best serve the incoming student?

Some things surprised me while other things simply confirmed a suspicion. Overall, I think the data continues to reveal the need for seminaries to look closely at the system of theological education and think seriously about whether or not it is meeting the need of today’s seminarian. In a recent presentation, Dan Aleshire, Executive Director of ATS, talked about four drivers of change which are, “…stirring the pot of change and what brought us to the dance won’t get us home as theological schools.” I couldn’t agree more – what got us here isn’t going to work in the future.

After reviewing this first infographic, I can’t help but wonder if our system of theological education is appropriately dealing with the fact that seminary is simply part of what our incoming students (most of whom are in the millennial generation) are doing. We need to find a better way for seminary to fit in the rhythm of one’s life. This doesn’t mean we need to “dumb down” or “give away” degrees. It simply means we need to recognize that students are coming in with certain experiences and already have a full life. How can we creatively serve them while equipping them to serve the mission of God? Online education isn’t the answer; it may be part of the answer, but it isn’t the answer. To simply say online education will solve all the issues is naive. We definitely need innovative online initiatives, but we need much more. We need something that understands and takes advantage of the fact that ministry is personal in nature.

What are your thoughts? Does anything in this graphic surprise you? Is there a seminary you think is dealing with these issues? Over the rest of this week, I will share two other infographics. On Wednesday, we will look at why students attend seminary.