A new model for Lincoln Christian University

Focus shifts to seminary and graduate students, off-campus training

click to enlarge A new model for Lincoln Christian University
Silas McCormick, university president

Lincoln Christian University officials say they are pleased by initial reactions to the institution's new model, though the transition was wrenching and mournful for the 78-year-old institution and pillar of the Logan County seat.

The model features a slimmed-down undergraduate program, continued focus on seminary and graduate-level ministry degrees and an expansion of off-campus education for students and church members.

The private university asked its regular donors for two years to prove the new model would work, and "almost all of them have stuck with us," university President Silas McCormick told Illinois Times.

There were 463 students in the spring, when the changes began. Of those, 227 were graduate and seminary students, McCormick said.

"Our goal for the new model is 250 or more graduate students and another 50 or more undergraduate students," he said.

The change, which pares down undergraduate programs to those directly tied to vocational ministry, has caused some nervousness among the remaining undergrads and some graduate and seminary students, he said.

"As long as we can work through the fear from prospective students of whether we're going to be here, I think this will work for its season, which I think could be a lengthy one," McCormick said. "A university that doesn't have students really isn't a university."

The university announced the changes in February, which included the elimination of all competitive sports after spring 2022. Undergraduate students caught in the middle of the change are being allowed to finish their degrees at LCU.

Many small, private colleges across the country are struggling financially or have closed. Those institutions include MacMurray College in Jacksonville, which closed in 2020, and Lincoln's own Lincoln College, which closed this year, citing the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on recruitment and fundraising efforts, sporting events and other campus-life activities.

Lincoln Christian's decision, based on finances and affected by enrollment trends exacerbated by the pandemic, resulted in the closing of the residence halls, the layoff of 29 full-time employees and the departure of another 10 full-timers who either retired or resigned. Thirty-two full-time employees remain.

The $9.8 million annual budget now is down to $5.7 million.

"That number will decline further as we implement the new model," McCormick said. "Our goal over the next couple of years is to get our expenses down under $4 million."

To improve cash flow and reduce overhead, the university sold the student apartment complex for $1.23 million to an out-of-town businessman who is renting to students and the rest of the community.

The university entered into a 10-year lease agreement with Lincoln-based Open Arms Christian Fellowship for Hargrove Chapel, Laughlin Center, the Field House, athletic fields and residence halls. The agreement includes an option for Open Arms to purchase the property during the first year of the lease.

The university is expanding its work with churches to offer in-the-field training for students wanting to become full-time ministers and counselors, McCormick said.

Creation of the new Lincoln Christian Institute allows the university to expand non-credit workshops, retreats, conferences and other educational opportunities led by university faculty.

The institute, which provides programs at minimal or no cost to churches, helps to solidify their spiritual and financial connections with the university, McCormick said.

LCU junior Emma Kindred, 20, is on track to complete bachelor's degrees in youth and family ministry and in worship ministries in December 2024. She said she wants to provide Christian mentorship to high school students full time after she graduates.

Kindred said she is grateful LCU is allowing her to complete her education at the university even though the degrees she is earning are being eliminated.

Kindred said she appreciates the commitment of the remaining faculty members.

"It's just cool to see their passion for serving the students and serving the Lord," she said.

A benefit of the downsizing has been that some vacated offices on campus have been converted to new rooms for students who are practicing leading worship services. The rooms are nicer than the former practice rooms in the chapel, she said.

David Upchurch, a rural Rochester resident who has been LCU's director of Christian ministries for more than a decade, said most churches have had "very positive" reactions to the university's new model.

"There's a little bit of grieving about what we used to be, but they're happy that we're still in existence, producing kingdom workers," said Upchurch, 63, who earned his bachelor's in church and family life from LCU in 1980.

He said he is optimistic the new model can be "very successful. I believe the next two or three years will determine that."

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at dolsen@illinoistimes.com, 217-679-7810 or twitter.com/DeanOlsenIT.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
dolsen@illinoistimes.com, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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