In addition to being a pioneer institution in theology, Andover Newton set the model for graduate education in the United States. At a time when most professional training was still done through apprenticeships, Andover Newton established post-baccalaureate education and became the country’s first formal graduate school.
The school is also familiar with change. It moved to Cambridge, MA in the early 20th century to be in a better position to attract students. In 1931 operations moved to Newton Centre at the invitation of Newton Theological Institution. The official merger between the two in 1965 produced what we now know as Andover Newton Theological School.
But perhaps the largest change in its history is unfolding now. Enrollment is 225 students, many part-time. This is down from 450 students a generation ago. The school is using a mortgage line of credit to pay bills while trying to preserve its endowment. Faced with changing enrollment numbers are real economic hardships, the school announced in November 2015 that is will sell its 20-acre campus and relocate. Students will have until May of 2018 to complete their degrees while the school continues normal operations.
Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver said the school is considering two options: embed themselves in a more stable institution such as Yale Divinity School, or adopt a lean cooperative learning model. The latter option would eliminate broad elective courses, focus on core subjects, and send students to do a bulk of their learning in local churches.
Beyond the obvious physical change of location, faculty will be smaller. The symbolism is strong, and seemingly a bad sign for mainline liberal protestant Christianity in this country. A large campus is being sold. Faculty will be losing jobs. Student enrollment will be smaller.
In part two of this series we will dig deeper into the numbers and analyze religious trends impacting seminaries and churches across the country, not just Andover Newton. The concluding part three will offer reflections on this situation, lessons for change, and reasons it all may not be so bad.