Bethel University is partnering with churches to deliver affordable degrees via online courses and practicum experiences on-site at churches in a new Bethel University Extension Studies (BU-X) Program.
Terry Linhart, Ph.D., formerly the Dean of Bethel’s Adult and Graduate Studies (AGS) program, is now serving as the Executive Director of Extension Studies. During the first year of the program, Linhart will be working alongside newly hired Academic Director Kristi Monesmith as well as other staff members who will be cross-trained to handle admission, enrollment, and advising, and also a staff member specializing in financial aid.
Already, three churches have officially committed to joining the BU-X program this fall and one in the fall of 2021. Bethel is working with two other groups of churches and about two dozen are seriously considering joining in the fall of 2021.
Linhart anticipates a lot more growth in the next six years, saying, “Off-hand, for our size of school and the churches we are affiliated with, we could see 80 sites and 800 students … I think that’s a good target.”
Initially, all courses for the BU-X program will take place online, with hopes that as enrollment grows, courses such as Exploring the Christian Faith and Written Communication will be able to be taught on-site. Course offerings are dependent on available programs. For now, those will include existing AGS programs that align with the heart of the churches. Linhart says they are currently looking into potential new majors in coordination with AGS programs at Bethel.
The BU-X program also offers students a chance to participate in a semester-long practicum at their church site. These will mostly consist of ministry practicums, though some churches are developing other practicum opportunities. The practicum experience will include a combination of reading, structured reflection and supervised practice.
Linhart explains that this practical ministry experience is one of several reasons why the BU-X program might be the right fit for a student. Additionally, this program is a great alternative to community college for students who want a Christ-centered education. The affordability of the program — the cost of which is comparable to the rates of most community colleges — opens doors for students who might not otherwise be able to attend college.
“We’ve already seen that to be true for a few of the early BU-X students,” says Linhart. “They just had written off college as an option altogether. They didn’t know what they wanted to do and they weren’t interested in community college, so they just weren’t going to go until they heard about this.”
In addition to helping prospective students, Linhart looks forward to the ways that the BU-X program might help Bethel.
“We’re right on the frontlines listening to 16- and 17-year-olds and their parents, so that’s going to help the university as a whole,” Linhart explains, adding that the program will also benefit the university financially. He says, “When I’m doing this job, I’m thinking of the full-time faculty and staff we have on campus at Bethel, and I feel like … BU-X is a way for us to take care of our people better and to give the [university] more financial resources to work with.”