print this page

-A A +A

Educational Models and Practices in Theological Education

Funded by a major grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Educational Models and Practices in Theological Education project has been underway since 2015. Involving more than 90 percent of member schools, the project is providing remarkable insights into the work of the schools to develop new ways of doing theological education, providing venues for collaboration, and supporting innovative projects and faculty development.

It is significant that academic administrators and faculty are directly responsible for the creative ideas schools are pursuing. Certainly there are outside pressures urging the creation of the ideas, but the ideas themselves are coming from within the academic and educational heart of institutions.
~ Stephen R. Graham

Completed work

Mapping survey of program developments and plans

  • An online survey of deans of all ATS schools yielded completed surveys from 226 (84%) of the 270 member schools. The set of schools responding to the survey closely matches the overall profile of the membership, proportionately representing schools in the United States and Canada, the three ecclesial families, institutional size, and embedded and freestanding contexts.
  • The second part of the mapping survey asked program directors to provide in-depth information about particular initiatives, including why the schools pursued these programs, whom they sought to serve, how effective the programs had been (or not), challenges faced, and positive outcomes. Directors of more than 440 programs from a representative group of 200 schools responded to the survey.

Peer groups research

On the basis of information from the mapping surveys and input from ATS staff and the project’s advisory board, 18 peer groups, including more than 200 representatives from 110 schools, were formed to explore and assess particular educational models and practices. Read Steve Graham's summary reflections on the final reports from those groups. In addition, ATS accreditor Tom Tanner offers his thoughts on key themes and principles from the peer groups for the redevelopment of the ATS Standards and Procedures.

A study of graduates of ATS schools

Utilizing the Graduating Student Questionnaire and supplementing it with questions of particular importance for the Educational Models and Practices project, a selected sample of nearly 50 schools facilitated a survey of their graduating classes of 2011 and 2015. Almost 1,000 responses were analyzed to provide information about how these graduates are employed, the credentials and competencies required for their work, the credentials required of colleagues in their places of employment, and details about their places of service. The “snapshot” of these graduates will provide important insights into the employment opportunities and vocational aspirations of those receiving education and formation in ATS schools.

Grants to schools

Through the generosity of Lilly Endowment, Inc., in summer 2017, the Association awarded nearly $3.4 million in grants to schools to support educational innovation and faculty development. Because of the tremendous response of the schools and the quality of their proposals, the Endowment added an additional $1.2 million to the original funded amount for grants of $2.2 million.

  • 58 Innovation Grants of up to $50,000each, totaling more than $2.76 million
  • 44 Faculty Development Grants of up to $15,000, totaling nearly $640,000
  • For the June 2018 Faculty Development Forum, schools submitted project summaries.

A comparative study of other patterns of graduate professional education

During the 2017–18 academic year, the Association gathered administrators and faculty from a range of graduate professional education programs (e.g., education, health care, law, business, and social work) to discuss the challenges facing educators in those fields, to hear about their approaches to addressing the challenges, and to explore possible implications of their learning for theological education. Preliminary findings were reported at the 2018 ATS Biennial Meeting in Denver. Read the final report from the April 2018 meeting or the final report from the October 2018 meeting.

Work in progress

Integration of project findings into a proposed process to redevelop the standards of accreditation

Findings from the Educational Models project are helping to inform a full redevelopment of the standards of accreditation, which the membership approved at the 2018 Biennial Meeting.

Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committee, a representative group from schools across the Association, serves the project by advising ATS staff, engaging issues raised by the project, adjudicating grant proposals from schools, and providing insights into the broad landscape of theological education and its constituencies.


Stephen R. Graham
Senior Director of Programs and Services