NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — The Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary–Great Plains Extension advisory board on Jan. 23 recommended closing the extension site on June 30. The AMBS board will take formal action in March.
“This was a difficult decision after a long process of evaluation, but in the end there was strong consensus among board members that this was the appropriate next step,” said Tom Harder, chair of the advisory board.
Enrollment has declined for several years. In spite of increased recruitment efforts this year, enrollment of both credit and audit students remained flat or declined.
Students in the area have more options, such as the new Master of Divinity Connect distance program and more online and hybrid courses offered from the main AMBS campus.
Dorothy Nickel Friesen accepted two major tasks when she began a one-year assignment as interim director in July 2013. One task was to help the board evaluate the current site and future possibilities. The other was to put renewed energy into recruitment and fundraising.
To facilitate the assessment of AMBS–Great Plains, Nickel Friesen initiated an extensive process that included a survey of constituents in the region and focus groups. The response rate of 44 percent showed strong interest in the site and affirmation for its services. Most respondents asserted that high-quality theological education is crucial, though only a very small number said they intended to take classes at the site in the near future.
The advisory board reviewed the research findings, the history of AMBS–Great Plains, current trends in enrollment and changes in delivery systems. In addition, they reviewed the trend in annual budget deficits for the site resulting from lower enrollments. They concluded that closing the extension site was appropriate.
The board made its decision with gratitude for the education and nurture that has taken place through the extension site and its predecessor, the Great Plains Seminary Education Program, which began in 1980 as a conference-based initiative co-sponsored by Western District and South Central conferences.
Although research showed low interest in extension site master’s-level courses, it showed strong interest for continuing education and resources to refresh and renew ministry.
Workshops and seminars are available from area institutions and organizations, including Bethel, Tabor and Hesston colleges; Prairie View mental health center; and Mennonite Central Committee Central States. How AMBS might continue to serve the area is still to be determined.
Gratitude for support
“We thank God for the legacy of AMBS–Great Plains,” wrote advisory board member Kathy Neufeld Dunn on behalf of the board members. “There have been more than 1,500 course registrations (both credit and audit) since its beginnings.
“Though there will not be a physical seminary extension site in central Kansas, there is still a need for developing strong, educated church leaders in the years ahead. We remain deeply committed to the mission, vision, purpose and vitality of AMBS as it continues to nurture future pastors, missionaries, church educators and chaplains to serve in our communities.”
A closing celebration of AMBS–Great Plains will be held June 1 at Bethel College Mennonite Church.
Serving on the advisory board are Tom Harder, Sara Dick, Katherine Goerzen, Mark Jantzen, Anita Yoder Kehr, Tim Lichti, John C. Murray, Becky Nickel, Jim Ostlund, Clarence Rempel, Kathy Neufeld Dunn and Bill Zuercher. Academic dean Rebecca Slough is the AMBS administrator liaison to the advisory board.
AMBS–Great Plains became an extension site of AMBS in 2002. Lois Barrett served as director for 11 years and continues to serve as AMBS professor of theology and Anabaptist studies. Directors of the Great Plains Seminary Education Program, which preceded the extension site, were Dorothea Janzen, Floyd Bartel, Leland Harder, Jacob T. Friesen, Elmer Ediger and David Habegger.