Distance ed. options abound at Baptist schools

In the past, earning a theological degree automatically meant packing up and moving to the campus of a college or seminary.

But that’s not the case anymore.

Through online courses and extension centers, students can earn credit toward degrees at all six SBC seminaries and at least two Texas colleges.

One Southern Baptist seminary offers a master’s degree entirely online while two others have multiple accredited campuses where students can earn degrees.

The following represents distance-learning options at several schools.

Criswell College in Dallas offers an undergraduate-level certification program for pastors entirely online with the option of transferring the course work.

Called the Criswell Certificate in Great Doctrines of the Bible, the program involves eight three-hour courses and is for ministers who have not completed an undergraduate degree. Each course costs $783 to receive transferable college credit and less if no transferable credit is desired.

“This program of study is completed 100 percent online from the convenience of the student’s Internet connection,” Barry Creamer, dean of distance education, told the TEXAN. “It includes access to required reading, listening [to] and viewing materials at wacriswell.com, weekly online interaction with the professor and other students, online exams and papers submitted online.”

Students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., can earn graduate degrees at any of five fully accredited campuses. Online classes can also make up a portion of a student’s coursework.

Among the learning elements of online classes are live video and audio chats with professors, DVD lectures, online quizzes and exams and contact with professors through phone and e-mail.

“Often courses have one of Golden Gate’s librarians sitting in to make sure that students are aware and make wise use of the online resources and databases available,” Rick Durst, Golden Gate’s director of online education, told the TEXAN. “This [past] semester our president, Jeff Iorg, premiered his online Introduction to Preaching using video lectures linked through Vimeo, a weekly video chat with students and student submission of their sermons via uploads to Vimeo.”

Starting this fall, online SBC students will pay the same tuition rate as on campus SBC students: $205 per credit hour. Online students pay an additional technology fee of $230 per course.

Jacksonville College, a two-year Christian liberal arts school in Jacksonville, Texas, offers 30 hours of courses taught either entirely online or with a mix of online learning and personal contact with an instructor.

Online and on-campus courses cost $210 per credit hour. All students pay a $10 per semester technology fee and if enrolled for six hours or more, a student service fee of $200.

“While all learning outcomes for a distance learning course match those taught in a comparable face-to-face course, the method of accomplishing those outcomes will typically be different in the online classroom,” Jacksonville College’s academic dean Tampa Clark said. “All courses require significant reading, but some courses may require online group projects in addition to individual assignments. Discussion boards are prevalent, as are links to videos and other resource materials.”

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., offers an extensive selection of graduate and undergraduate degrees entirely online.

The online courses incorporate video and audio teaching along with presentations given through electronic slides. Prices vary according to the degree a student is working on and are posted at Liberty’s website.

Liberty’s selection of online degrees is larger than that of SBC seminaries because it is accredited by a different national accrediting agency that is more lenient regarding on-campus study requirements.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City is the only SBC seminary that offers a master’s degree entirely online—the 45-hour master of arts in theological studies.

Students in other programs may take courses online and at extension centers, but no other degree may be earned fully without studying on the main campus. The cost for online classes is $250 per credit hour.

“Online classes are eight weeks in length,” Midwestern’s director of admissions and student recruitment Rusty Marriot said. “They are reading intensive, but students are required to access their student portal on Blackboard [an online learning management system] to respond to different assignments from professors and interact with others in the class.”

The online master’s degree is offered through Midwestern’s undergraduate college rather than the seminary and is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national agency that accredits all six SBC seminaries. Current ATS standards do not allow any degrees to be offered fully online. However, the degree is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, students can earn credit toward graduate and undergraduate degrees at extension centers and through online classes. They can also earn multiple undergraduate-level certificates entirely online.

For SBC students, the tuition is $250 per credit hour.

Craig Price, associate dean of online learning, said online classes allow students to adapt coursework to their own schedules.

“We use video links, iTunes U, audio links, YouTube links, reading, online tests, blogs, some synchronous learning using chat rooms and Webex,” Price told the TEXAN. “We employ online testing, paper assignments and weekly discussion boards.”

New “hybrid” format courses include three weeks of online study and a class meeting on campus during the fourth week, and count as on-campus credit toward a degree.

Though students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary are required to spend some time on the Wake Forest campus for all degree programs, online classes and extension centers can be significant components of many degree programs.

For online classes, a professor’s instruction is recorded on campus then distributed to students through iTunes U or DVDs. Reading assignments, tests and other work are all administered through the Internet.

Tuition for master’s-level SBC students is $714 per class at extension centers and $877 per class online.

Through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College, students can earn entirely online both an associate of arts in biblical and theological studies and a bachelor of arts in biblical and theological studies. But all seminary degrees require study on the main campus in Louisville, Ky.

Up to two-thirds of the master of divinity and up to one-half of any master of arts may be earned online and at extension centers. Internet courses consist of a combination of recorded video lectures, required reading, discussion forums, quizzes, exams, written assignments and web-based research projects.

Seminary tuition for SBC students is $219 per credit hour plus a $250 per course Internet fee for online classes.

“The entire core curriculum for the M.Div. and the core curriculums for most M.A. degrees are available online, giving students great flexibility in planning for their online and on-campus needs,” Hayward Armstrong, associate vice president for online learning and intercultural programs at Southern, said.

At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students may complete full degrees at either the Fort Worth or Houston campuses. They may also earn up to 49 percent of their degree online and up to 66 percent of their degree at extension centers. At least 30 hours though, must be taken at the Fort Worth or Houston campuses.

Most online classes use a multi-media format, including PowerPoint slide shows, audio lectures, short videos, online chats, blogging, journaling and wiki assignments. Others employ a live video chat feature, and a few lecture-format classes use streamed classroom video recordings or DVDs.

For SBC students, a normal three-hour online class costs $813 and a normal three-hour extension center class costs $651.

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