November 11, 2002
Baptist education in Corpus offers a new lesson
___By Mark Wingfield
___CORPUS CHRISTI--Do Texas Baptists have a university or seminary in Corpus Christi?
___Technically, the answer could be no. Practically, however, the answer is yes.
___Texas Baptists who've been around a while may believe the Baptist General Convention of Texas exited the education market in Corpus Christi with the sale of the University of Corpus Christi in 1973.
___However, a remnant of that former Baptist university continues to germinate and offers an expanding array of educational services for the South Texas region.
___The Baptist Learning Center of South Texas is not an agency of the BGCT and receives no budget funding from the BGCT. As an independent agency with a self-perpetuating board, however, the Baptist Learning Center serves Texas Baptists and their churches.
___This fall, 237 students are enrolled in graduate, undergraduate and certificate courses at the Baptist Learning Center, located on 10 acres of what formerly was the University of Corpus Christi. The rest of the adjoining property is now owned by Texas A&M University.
___Baptist Learning Center approaches its work in a unique manner, not granting degrees itself but instead providing educational services on behalf of several partner institutions. Corpus Christi students may earn the master of divinity degree from Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon School of Theology, the bachelor of arts in Christian studies or the certificate in ministry and Christian leadership from Howard Payne University.
___Beginning with the spring semester, the Baptist Learning Center also will partner with Hispanic Baptist Theological School to offer its certificate courses in South Texas.
___Students enrolled in BGCT schools through the Baptist Learning Center do not place a financial drain on those institutions because the learning center provides all the local resources--recruiting teachers, providing classroom space and administrative support.
___The learning center generates support for its $450,000 annual budget primarily through earnings off endowments, in addition to student fees. However, the tuition and fees charged at Baptist Learning Center are significantly less than what students would pay to study on campus at most full-service institutions.
___Howard Payne University has offered off-campus classes at the learning center since its creation in 1977. Logsdon began offering master's-level course in Corpus Christi six years ago.
___At the time of its creation, the Baptist Learning Center offered a unique model for Christian education, said President Linn Self. Even BGCT leadership could not comprehend the new direction of the entity formed by Corpus Christi Baptist Association, he said.
___Previously, the BGCT had relied on Baptist Student Ministry directors to teach Old Testament and New Testament courses at some state universities. Leaders of the new effort in Corpus didn't want to follow that model. Instead, they wanted to offer a full range of Christian studies taught by Baptist professors with doctoral degrees.
___From this vision and the partnership with Howard Payne, a program developed in which students earn their general studies credits elsewhere--often at the adjacent Texas A&M campus--but earn the 36 hours of credits related to the Christian studies major at the Baptist Learning Center.
___This is an "awesome model" that could be duplicated elsewhere across the state, said Self, a former Texas Baptist pastor.
___Likewise, when Corpus Christi Baptists began to explore adding seminary studies to the lineup, they didn't want to offer only video classes taught by professors in another city, Self said. They wanted live professors interacting with students in the same classroom.
___The result is that the Baptist Learning Center today, in both its undergraduate and graduate programs, boasts one of the highest percentages of courses taught by faculty with doctoral degrees of any extension center in the United States. All professors in the master of divinity program hold doctoral degrees.
___"We have a higher level of Ph.D.s teaching in our undergraduate program than most schools have on their main campuses," Self said.
___Students enrolled at the Baptist Learning Center include both young and old. In all cases, however, the students study without having to break ties to the South Texas churches where they work and worship. About 40 percent of the learning center's students are training for ministry vocations, and most of those serve area churches.
___Not all students are Baptists, however, and the learning center has developed a good working relationship with other Christian groups in South Texas, Self said.
___Jordan Doty, a new student in the undergraduate program, is an Episcopalian who has been nurtured in faith by friends in a local Baptist church. He learned about the Baptist educational program through the center's website and dropped by one day to inquire.
___He explained to Self that day that he felt called to Christian ministry but was still exploring what that entailed. Self invited him to come back the next day, the first day of fall classes, and sit in on a class.
___What he experienced, Doty said, was "fantastic." He enrolled and immediately began courses. "I know I'm supposed to be here," he said.
___One of the things that sold him immediately was the fellowship among students, he said. Every Thursday--the day the largest number of classes are offered--the learning center provides lunch for all students. The lunch time doubles as a colloquium and fellowship time.
___Last month, the Baptist Learning Center celebrated its 25th anniversary, and more than 400 people turned out for an anniversary banquet at which the keynote speakers were Vernon Davis of Logdson and Russell Dilday of Howard Payne.
___At the banquet, plans were unveiled for construction of four apartments in a new building adjacent to the current office and classroom structure built in 1980. The addition would provide housing for a missionary-in-residence, short-term professors and perhaps for a retired Baptist university professor who could continue a teaching career in Corpus Christi. A fourth apartment would be provided for the associate director of the local Baptist Student Ministry.
___The project will cost an estimated $700,000, all of which must be raised through donations. Nearly one-third of the funds already have been raised, and the center's board this month approved moving ahead with finalizing architectural plans.
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