Louisiana College adds tuition-free grad school

Published 4:27 pm Friday, December 24, 2010

Louisiana College, a small Southern Baptist college in Pineville, plans to open a tuition-free graduate school for ministers next August.

A foundation has promised $1 million or more a year ‘‘in perpetuity’’ for the Caskey School of Divinity, said Joe Aguillard, president of Louisiana College, which currently has about 1,450 students. The first $1 million check arrived Dec. 14.

The school’s announcement identifies Caskey as ‘‘a Southern Baptist minister who tirelessly worked and evangelized in Louisiana,’’ but doesn’t mention the minister’s first name. Aguillard said the foundation asked him to keep that secret because it might be used to identify the foundation.

Email newsletter signup

‘‘My board doesn’t even know,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s very, very anonymous.’’

One of the graduate school’s aims is helping ministers whose churches are small, and who must hold down a full-time job outside the church, Aguillard said. Because of that, he said, most classes will be at night, at weeklong summer ‘‘institutes’’ and seminars held over long weekends, and over the Internet.

Initial plans call for admitting 100 students a year.

The free tuition will include study abroad, Aguillard said. ‘‘Every student will stay in Israel to make the connection to the studies here on campus to the Holy Land,’’ he said. ‘‘It will be a very formidable educational piece to that degree program.’’

Many divinity students get grants or scholarships for all or part of their tuition, but most schools do charge tuition, said William C. Miller, director of accreditation and institutional evaluation for the Association of Theological Schools. And, he noted in an e-mail, the percentage of tuition that students must pay has grown over the past two decades.

‘‘To my knowledge all ATS schools have a tuition charge or rate on the books even when students are not actually charged the amount,’’ he said.

Louisiana College is not among the 250-plus U.S. and Canadian graduate theological schools in the association, which includes nondenominational, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant schools with a wide variety of doctrines.

Aguillard said Louisiana College plans to go with SACS accreditation initially, but may apply later to ATS. ‘‘It’s something we’ve talked about down the road,’’ he said.

The divinity school is the third graduate school to be announced in three years, but, if the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approves the program, it will be the first to open.

A law school announced in 2007 and originally planned to open in 2009 is now scheduled to do so in 2012, with about 60 students in Shreveport. A medical school announced last year is expected to see its first 50 students in fall 2013.

SACS and the Commission on Colleges gave Louisiana College the go-ahead for graduate degrees in 2008, and it began offering its first, a master’s in teaching, later that year.

The divinity school can get started faster than the medical or law schools because Louisiana College already has the buildings and most of the faculty needed, and because the law and medical schools need extra accreditation, Aguillard said.

‘‘We have a very vibrant and large undergraduate Christian Studies Division, staffed by all Ph.D. faculty,’’ he said. ‘‘Those will be the foundation for the curriculum to be taught.’’

To start with, it will offer a 36-credit-hour master’s degree over 18 to 24 months, but plans call for expanding to doctoral degrees, he said.

Two new faculty members will join seven currently working at Louisiana College, he said.

Charles Quarles, Louisiana College’s vice president of integration of faith and learning and a professor of New Testament and Greek, will be founding dean of the divinity school.

Aguillard said he didn’t ask the foundation for help — it came to him.

‘‘They felt very connected to what we are doing here,’’ he said. ‘‘We talked about the kinds of programs that we could make available that would support their convictions and their interest, and this was their No. 1 interest.’’