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A Bold New Direction for Andover Newton

Today, Andover Newton leadership and trustees shared with the community its plans to move in a bold new direction to ensure the school’s 208-year commitment to our work and mission continue to thrive. This plan will include either significantly narrowing the school’s focus or embedding with a similar institution such as Yale Divinity School. While discussions are ongoing, we believe these options offer Andover Newton the best opportunity to fulfill its mission in new, creative ways.

The letter, sent to alumni/ae, donors, trustees, and other members of the campus community, is reprinted below:

November 12, 2015

Dear Andover Newton Community,

The history of Andover Newton Theological School is one of innovation and thoughtful, bold action in the face of changing circumstances. Throughout its 208-year history, Andover Newton has successfully adapted to the challenges of each era in ways that have helped our School not only to survive, but also to become better equipped to fulfill its mission in the world. Toward that end, our School has relocated twice, affiliated with other institutions three times, launched never-before-seen educational models, and demonstrated readiness to change virtually anything but its mission to educate inspiring religious leaders.

Today, Andover Newton must move in a bold new direction to ensure our work and mission continue to thrive. In part, this is necessitated by seismic changes that are taking place in the church and, by extension, in theological education. Like most independent theological schools, enrollment at Andover Newton has been in steady decline for more than 10 years due to a contracting applicant pool. As much as we cherish it, the large campus we occupy today was built to meet the needs of another era. It is clear that Andover Newton’s current mode of being — even with modifications — is not financially sustainable. 

Not only is the institution struggling financially, but those for whom it exists are, too: student debt is soaring to the point where leaders at Andover Newton worry that graduates will be unable to enter ministry due to their financial obligations.

Enrollment and financial stress are not the only reasons the School will pursue a bold new direction. The needs of congregations and the broader culture are also changing rapidly in ways that require new approaches to theological education. Andover Newton has been an innovator since its founding. In fact, as the first theological school in the country, Andover Newton started its life as an innovation, and the School has been characterized by a spirit of innovation ever since.

Therefore, the Trustees are exploring two new directions that have the potential of fulfilling Andover Newton’s mission in creative new ways while greatly reducing student debt.

Narrow the Focus of the School: In pursuing this option, Andover Newton would offer fewer programs to fewer students. The focal program would be a cooperative Master of Divinity along with some complementary programs. Andover Newton would frame its mission more narrowly on preparation for authorized Christian and Unitarian Universalist ministry in an increasingly religiously diverse world. The new Andover Newton’s educational model would blend some face-to-face learning with faculty and peers with field-based learning in thriving congregations and other settings for ministry.

This new model would blend a student’s first ministerial call with theological education through an entirely cooperative model, in lieu of the broad range of programs and options available today. Although we believe the cooperative model is promising, questions remain as to whether it would be scalable beyond a handful of faith community settings.

Because much of the education would take place in ministry contexts, Andover Newton would relocate to a smaller, more nimble location. The faculty and staff would be substantially smaller than today and more focused on ministry education in the context of faith communities. Even with this narrowed focus and smaller scale, it is not yet clear that this model would bring us to financial sustainability.

Become Embedded in Another Institution of Higher Learning: Andover Newton will seriously consider becoming embedded in another school — that is, retaining some independence as a school within a school — if such an affiliation would enable Andover Newton to pursue its historic mission, and if the missions of the two schools were symbiotic.

Regarding this potential option, Andover Newton has had preliminary conversations with Yale Divinity School, a school with both historic ties and missional affinities with Andover Newton. Such an affiliation, were it to take place, would allow Andover Newton to maintain its focus on educating for ministry with the additional benefit of access to a world-class university. Both schools have expressed willingness to continue those conversations. This option also includes relocating, in this case, to New Haven, CT.

Gregory E. Sterling, Dean of Yale Divinity School, has said, “Yale Divinity School has benefited in the past from partnerships with other vital schools, and we see potential for this possible partnership to benefit both institutions and the communities we serve. Although the outcome is uncertain, we welcome these preliminary conversations.”

Because both of the directions the Board of Trustees is considering at this time involve a new location that furthers Andover Newton’s mission more effectively, the next steps for the School include making plans to sell the campus, and putting plans in place to gradually transition to a new educational model. 

Included in the gradual transition will be no fewer than two years of academic programs that enable current students to earn their degrees at Andover Newton. For those who are unable to finish their degrees in two years, numerous options will be made available through carefully constructed partnerships with other schools. Dean Sarah Drummond is leading the faculty in the process of building new programs while also meeting the needs of those enrolled in current programs. Over the weeks ahead, students will receive direct information and counsel on how to exercise the options that best fit their needs. This timetable will influence how we approach admissions for the next academic year.

Andover Newton’s trustees, faculty, and administration remain committed to advancing the historic mission of the school and believe that these directions hold great promise. Nevertheless, we recognize that these new directions — although necessary — can be accompanied by a sense of loss. We share that sense of loss, even as we look forward to the future in a spirit of confident expectation for this new chapter in the life of our School. We are committed to keeping all constituencies informed of developments during this time of transition. Some specific times for conversations with alumni/ae and students are listed on the following page. Throughout this time we invite your prayers for the school, its mission, and its future. 

Martin B. Copenhaver
Sarah B. Drummond
Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs
James Sherblom
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Opportunities to Gather for More Information

For Students: Two Options

  • Tuesday, Nov. 17, 12:45-1:45 p.m., Peck Room in lower Worcester Hall
  • Thursday, Dec. 3, 12:45-1:45 p.m., Peck Room

For Alumni/ae: Two Options on Friday, Nov. 20

  • In person: Luncheon discussion 12-2 p.m., Meeting House
  • At a distance: Webinar information session, 2:30-3:30 p.m. Please see the Alumni/ae section of the Andover Newton website for login instructions.

Please monitor the Andover Newton Web site at for updates.

Thank you for your care for Andover Newton Theological School.

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