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AMBS–Great Plains extension site to close

Mary E. Klassen

February 3, 2014

AMBS-Great Plains fall class taught by Jerry Truex, PhD

AMBS-Great Plains fall class taught by Jerry Truex, PhD

AMBS–Great Plains advisory board recommends closing extension site

The advisory board of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary–Great Plains Extension took action at its January 23 meeting to recommend closing the extension site on June 30, 2014. The AMBS board will take formal action on this recommendation 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,” Tom Harder, chair of the advisory board, said.

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 fund-raising.

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 quality theological education is crucial, though only a very small number said they intended to take classes at AMBS–Great Plains in the near future.

Enrollment in courses has declined for several years and 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 available to them, such as the new Master of Divinity Connect distance program and more online and hybrid courses offered from the main AMBS campus.

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. Their conclusion was that closing the extension site was the appropriate next step.

The board made this decision with gratitude for the significant 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. Board members recognized the strong history of this significant resource for the church, and that this decision was both an opportunity for celebration and cause for sadness.

Although the research showed low interest in extension site master’s level courses, it also showed strong interest for continuing education and resources to refresh and renew ministry. Workshops and seminars are already available from higher education institutions and faith-based organizations in the area, including Bethel (KIPCOR), Tabor and Hesston Colleges; Prairie View; and Mennonite Central Committee. How AMBS might continue to serve people in the Great Plains area is still to be determined by AMBS administrators in consultation with others in the region.

The advisory board expressed gratitude to the AMBS board and staff for the strong support over the last 34 years. Kathy Neufeld Dunn, member of the advisory board, wrote on behalf of the board members, “We thank God for the legacy of AMBS–Great Plains. 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 is 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 Sunday, June 1, 4–6 p.m. at Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton, Kan.

Serving on the AMBS–Great Plains 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. Rebecca Slough, academic dean, is the AMBS administrator liaison to the advisory board.

AMBS–Great Plains became an extension site of AMBS in July 2002. Lois Barrett served as director of the site for eleven years; she 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.