Candler School of TheologyCandler School of Theology at Emory University is improving access to its Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program by switching to a two-day-a-week class schedule, creating commuter housing options, and offering online and hybrid courses. The changes will begin in the fall semester of the 2011-2012 school year for first-year MDiv students.

“This initiative provides students with greater flexibility and accessibility while maintaining Candler’s outstanding academic offerings,” says David Petersen, Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs and Franklin N. Parker Professor of Old Testament. “It gives them more time for their academic work and less time commuting.”

Under this new approach, first-year students will take required courses on a Tuesday-Thursday schedule and have the option of taking some courses online or in a hybrid online/classroom version. Students who live outside of Atlanta also may be eligible to stay overnight in nearby “commuter” apartments.

The new arrangement, widely endorsed by bishops and district superintendents within the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, is especially appealing to MDiv students who take part in Candler’s Teaching Parish Program. Students in this program attend Candler while serving as part-time pastors in small churches typically in communities outside metro Atlanta — even as far away as Alabama and Mississippi. They receive a salary and housing as part of their compensation, but their commute to campus for class can be daunting.

“These students have more complicated schedules. Not only are they responsible for the life of the church, but they are under the supervision of their district superintendents,” says Petersen. Accommodating these unique needs will enable more students to enroll in the Teaching Parish Program, he adds.

Plans are also under way for Candler-subsidized, part-time housing at a nearby apartment complex for long-distance commuters who need to stay near campus a few days a week. The apartments are furnished and contain two bedrooms, each with two beds, allowing up to four Candler students to share the space.

“We want to provide commuting students an affordable and comfortable place to stay during the middle of the week so they can easily get to their courses, study in the library, and have access to all of Emory’s resources,” says the Rev. Shonda R. Jones, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Services.

Selecting core courses that are available online and in hybrid versions is another new option for students, with the first courses going live in the 2011-2012 academic year. Additional online courses will be added each year during the next three years.

Michael Joseph Brown, associate professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, is in the first faculty cohort that will develop courses for online delivery. He believes online components will improve his New Testament course by facilitating quizzes, exams, and other standard course mechanisms.

“They free up classroom time for important dialogue,” he says. “Online classes are the way of the future in all of higher education.”

The Reverend Coy Hinton was one of several North Georgia UMC leaders who responded favorably to initial proposals about the new approach. “This seems like a win-win situation for these students and the churches they serve. Thanks so much for thinking creatively,” wrote Hinton, District Superintendent of the Atlanta College Park District.

Adds Jones, “We want to make Candler’s high caliber theological education possible for all those who are called to serve. The new concentrated schedule, commuter housing, and digital course offerings are the latest ways we’re demonstrating our commitment.”

Get more information about Candler’s Master of Divinity degree and the Teaching Parish Program.