Thursday, October 25, 2012

insider, outsider perceptions

At Uniting College, we’re in the midst of a vision, planning and promotion process. We’re taking some months to explore questions likeĀ  – What is our unique God-given charism (call)? What is the unique context in which we’re placed? Given that context, what do we want to be in 4 years time (vision)? What do we need to focus on to get there (signposts)? How would we know if we’ve got there (measurable outcomes)? What markers will set to guide our progress (strategy)?

We began with a 3 day workshop in September and it’s been fascinating to be part of a theological College of a mainline church engaging in such a process. The amount of energy, goodwill and clarity generated has been wonderful.

A second phase of the process began today, 2 days of work around promotion. Focus groups (potential students, current students, graduates, staff) will be woven together with phone interviews and a survey.

One of the exercises from today was around the question of what draws a person to a College/seminary. Focus groups were asked to list the following in order of priority. What will be fascinating will be comparing focus groups. What do potential students value, compared with what staff think potential students they might value?

Here’s the list of 12

  • focus (missional)
  • flexibility in study
  • teaching staff
  • theology
  • emphasis on practical experience
  • subject selection
  • college culture
  • denominational alliance
  • levels of study – from diploma to PhD
  • working with local churches
  • location of campus
  • emphasis on research

What would you put? What would be your top 2? What would be your bottom 2?

Posted by steve at 02:24 PM


  1. I think reputation and perception are hugely.important. For example, I know young people who want to study at Tabor because it’s perceived as ‘young’. People are also surprised when I tell them that UC is part of Flinders.

    Comment by Mike — October 25, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

  2. I wonder about – the importance of what one’s friends/peers choose, and also about a sense of the spirituality of the hoped-for experience (perhaps ‘college culture’). Another factor might be the breadth of courses offered – ie. is it limited to theology / ministry. Also, I wonder if how people see the education offered affecting their possible ministry/vocational opportunities being an issue (including denominational college versus interdenominational college) – perhaps ‘denominational alliance’. Interesting that university affiliation/accreditation isn’t listed. This is a really interesting exercise!

    Comment by Craig Mitchell — October 25, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

  3. I think that depends on the reason for considering the study. Personally the bottom 2 would be emphasis on research & working with local churches (as the College equips & trains people to work in local churches). The top 3 would probably be missional focus, denominational alliance & flexibility in study. Missional focus as that is the primary driver in all I do. Denominational alliance for credibility in UC. Flexibility in study as I work full time.

    Comment by Lynne Aird — October 25, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

  4. I’m intrigued that you don’t mention funding. Do all your students come fully funded by their Area/Diocese//Congregation? We know some of our offers are turned down even though students like us best but other colleges offer fully funded places. Avoidance of debt is a big issue given that clergy salaries are modest. Maybe that’s just USA?

    Comment by Maggi — October 25, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

  5. I think that the answers to these questions change with time.

    I can only tell my story, which has involved three theological colleges. When I was testing my call, I studied with Coolamon – a theological college from my denominational tradition that my presbytery specified for the discernment process (the fact that they were a distance education provider was also important). For me, the move from career to vocation was one of moving from trying all the short cuts to submitting to the will of the church, so I was willing to go wherever the church sent me to at that stage. This says nothing at all about the encouragement and nourishment I received from both Coolamon and Trinity, but the reasons I enrolled there were primarily structural.

    Now I am enrolled as a postgraduate, and the selection of a postgraduate course is different. When selecting that course, I was seeking a course that was not just going to fulfil my desire to continue to learn but also one that was able to provide me with support as I live in a remote area. Just lucky I spoke of this to another God-dreamer! While I was not 100% sure of what “missional” even meant when I enrolled, I was attracted by the relevance of the course to what I needed at the time of enrolment, your willingness to listen to my needs and tailor what you could to meet them, and also the staff members I met at a conference.

    I think the other big attractional factor is the change seen in the lives and ministry of your students – that is both your core business and best advertising.

    Comment by David Ferguson — October 26, 2012 @ 6:06 am

  6. Top 2 = Teaching staff and focus(missional)
    Bottom 2 = location of campus and denominational alliance
    Thank you for asking for my opinion. Best wishes, John

    Comment by John Littleton — October 26, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  7. Would like to add that ’emphasis on research’ should be equal second with ‘focus(missional). John.

    Comment by John Littleton — October 26, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  8. Maggi, none of our students are funded by denominations. Ordination candidates get a book allowance and can apply for help if they are below the government defined budget line.

    However, as students, they can apply for government assistance eg fee-help as a loan to cover fees,


    Comment by steve — October 26, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

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