Perkins School of Theology has established partnerships with nine undergraduate institutions to provide a preferred pathway for undergraduates considering a graduate theological education.
Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) were signed between Perkins and nine United Methodist-related colleges and universities in the South Central Jurisdiction during the 2017-18 academic year, with a tenth underway. Agreements have been made with Austin College, Sherman, Texas; Centenary College, Shreveport, La.; Hendrix College, Conway, Ark.; Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas; McMurry University, Abilene, Texas; Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark.; Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas; Wylie College, Marshall, Texas; and Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth. Another agreement, with Paul Quinn College, is in the works; the two institutions hope to finalize that by 2019.
“This is a way to encourage a pipeline of students from these schools to Perkins,” Andrew Keck, Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives and Special Assistant to the Dean at Perkins.
These new agreements provide preferred consideration and early decision for admission to graduates who have completed all the prerequisites for admission to SMU, giving qualified students early consideration for scholarships and other financial aid at Perkins. The partnerships also provide for annual visits by Perkins admission staff to the partner colleges and universities and reciprocal visits by interested students to SMU. In addition, the partnerships are expected to also include new collaborative academic and enrichment opportunities for faculty and students.
When qualified undergraduate students receive an early decision, that can give them a head start in applying for scholarships, according to Margot Perez-Greene, Associate Dean for Enrollment Management at Perkins.
“They are getting answers earlier in the process, and sometimes first in line also means first in line for a scholarship,” she said.
At the most recent signing ceremony, on March 2, 2018, establishing an MOU between Perkins and Hendrix College, Hendrix President William M. Tsutsui said, “Together, Hendrix and Perkins have inspired generations of United Methodist clergy in Arkansas and across the country. This agreement celebrates that history, as well as our continued commitment to educating future generations of United Methodist Church leaders.”
The Hendrix-Perkins agreement allows Hendrix students with a 3.0 GPA who submit the requisite application materials to receive an early admission decision (October 15) for the following fall semester at Perkins. Hendrix communicates with Perkins regarding undergraduates who are promising candidates for ministry, assists students in the application process, and coordinates annual visits by prospective students to the SMU campus.
The partner universities all have a Methodist or other church connection. Austin College is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Paul Quinn is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church; the remaining partner schools are all affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
“All of these schools have a tradition of providing students to Perkins,” said Perez-Greene. “The MOUs serve as a way to further encourage and cultivate relationships with those students considering theological education after graduation.”
MOU schools have been encouraged to bring students to the Perkins campus on November 12 for the Fall Convocation, followed by Inside Perkins on November 13, an event which gives prospective students a chance to visit classes, meet faculty and current students and experience the warmth of the Perkins community. Plans are also underway to consider possible programs to convene, support, and resource the chaplains on the campuses of these partner universities, who often serve as liaisons for Perkins.
Personal connections are one of the important ways that students discover Perkins, Keck added; the partnerships help leverage those relationships.
“Some of the best recruiters are current students or alumni with connections to these undergraduate colleges,” Keck said. “When Perkins students return to their alma maters, or talk to friends from those schools, they talk about Perkins, and that generates interest for soon-to-be grads to explore and learn more.”
Another goal, he added, was to encourage undergraduates to cultivate discernment for ministry within the college context “to give students an imagination for what a seminary education might be.” In recent years, theology schools have seen fewer applications; Keck says it’s important to plant the seed at a younger age. In some cases, Perkins recruiters identify students who are interested in seminary education who have not yet connected with the chaplain or campus minister at the college.
“We really do intend these to be a partnership,” said Keck. “We are still working on what are the best ways we can give back to these schools.”