NASHVILLE—“A remarkable number of young women” are enrolling at Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, according to a report delivered to the SBC Executive Committee.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, in reporting to the EC Sept. 18, said female SBC seminary graduates are helping to fulfill a need in churches for “strong female Bible teachers.” He attributed the increased number of female students in part to the publication of high-quality theological resources for women by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“One of the things we have all been convinced of at the seminaries,” Patterson said, “is that one of the things we greatly need is a generation of female Bible teachers who really have their act together, who really understand the Word of God.
“… Coming through our programs are a remarkable number of young women who are going all the way (to terminal degrees) and doing the finest job they could possibly do in education,” Patterson said.
According to data submitted to the Association of Theological Schools, SBC seminaries saw a 12 percent increase from 2012-16 in female students enrolled in graduate-level degree programs. Last fall, nearly 1,900 women were pursuing graduate degrees at SBC seminaries.
Though undergraduate data is not reflected on ATS reports, at least some seminaries have experienced female student increases in their undergraduate programs, according to reports received by Baptist Press.
Rhonda Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, attributed the increase in female seminary enrollment both to “student wives taking seminary courses” and women “receiving theological training to equip them for vocational or lay ministry in a variety of different fields, including women’s ministry, psychology and counseling, music, Christian education, preschool and children’s ministry.”
“The variety of degree programs and the introduction of certificate programs with fewer courses focused in a particular area of specialization are more realistic for women who have careers or others who have children at home,” Kelley, who chaired EC President Frank Page’s Women’s Advisory Council, told Baptist Press in written comments. “The different delivery models such as extension centers and online courses are more accessible to women. Our experience is that older ladies tend to characterize our certificate programs while more students in undergraduate and graduate degrees are younger.”
Southwestern, the focus of Patterson’s report, has seen a 35 percent increase since 2012 in female students pursuing graduate degrees, according to ATS data. The female undergraduate population at Southwestern has increased by 30 percent since 2012, according to data provided to BP by the seminary.
During the spring of 2017, 766 women were enrolled in certificate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral classes, Southwestern reported.
Patterson told the EC that Southwestern has four women on its faculty with doctor of philosophy degrees in theology. The seminary told BP 13 percent of its faculty are women, and degree programs at the master’s and doctoral levels allow for focus on women’s ministry and women’s studies.
Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, told BP women studying at SBC seminaries “are stewarding their minds for God’s glory by investing in theological education—and women are worthy of the investment.
“They are preparing themselves to make valuable and enduring contributions to the church in their generation,” McCoy said. “And, they are serving in harmony with, and under the authority of, Scripture’s pattern for women in ministry.” (BP)