LRU News

Lenoir-Rhyne University & LTSS Sign Merger Agreement

Tue Mar 27 2012

This is the story of two great institutions building a partnership that is being watched around the country. One is a surprisingly ecumenical seminary preparing mostly Lutheran – but also Baptist, Methodist, AME and Episcopal – ministers on its Main Street campus in Columbia, SC. The other, 140 miles north, is a rising university in Hickory, North Carolina.

Come July 1, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS) will officially join forces with Lenoir-Rhyne University in what some say is a “game-changing” merger between the two. Both are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and both have deep roots in the Carolinas.

Through this merger, LTSS will become part of the School of Theology of Lenoir-Rhyne University, but will maintain its historical identity and location in Columbia, SC.  This is the first such marriage among the 26 colleges/universities and eight seminaries of the ELCA.

Of the two institutions, LTSS is the elder sibling. Established in 1830, the seminary is a survivor. It has outlasted the Civil War, the Depression, two world wars, and countless sink-or-swim moments. Lenoir-Rhyne, by comparison, is the youthful upstart. It was founded in 1891 as Highland College, soon became Lenoir College, then Lenoir-Rhyne College and finally in 2008 rose up to become a full-fledged university.

This summer, the two will unite to create an unparalleled force in Carolina higher education. “This merger shows the kind of trust that developed among the leaders of each institution,” explains the Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Miller, President of LTSS. “Before, we had compatible missions. Going forward, we have the promise of a vibrant, singular mission. That’s powerful.”

L-R President Wayne Powell calls the merger “a win-win for both institutions. As one university, we will be both broader and deeper, and that makes it a win for students, faculty, and alumni as well.”

Broader and deeper, yes, and also potentially bigger. For the current year, LTSS enrolls some 150 students compared to L-R’s 1,861 undergraduates and graduate students.  Add additional students from the new Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville that Lenoir-Rhyne is set to launch this fall, and university enrollment is poised to rise significantly. Altogether, the three campuses of Lenoir-Rhyne University will yield an enrollment over 2,000, with plenty of growth potential in coming years.

The LTSS and L-R merger is expected to be a key driver. “LTSS and Lenoir-Rhyne have similar missions but unique strengths,” Dr. Powell explains. “For the university, the seminary expands our offerings in theological education and extends our geographic reach. For the seminary, Lenoir-Rhyne offers economies of scale in everything from IT costs to student support services. Plus, our undergraduate population provides a natural pipeline of students for the seminary.”

Powell expects synergies between the two components of the expanded university to fuel not only growth, but innovation. “What can the seminary offer to help undergraduates explore vocations in ministry?” he asks. “How can our business programs prepare future ministers for the managerial roles they will hold in churches?”

L-R Provost Dr. Larry Hall and LTSS Academic Dean Rev. Dr. Ginger Barfield are working on the answers. “We live in a world where the traditional boundaries that separate things are blurring,” Dr. Hall notes. “Today, preparing for ministry isn’t just about theology. It’s also about psychology, economics, and world history. And take business majors – where do they develop the ethical and spiritual dimensions so desperately needed in business leaders?”

“That,” Dr. Barfield adds, “is where the synergy, the opportunity, comes in. I expect to see the seminary and the university develop new, cross-disciplinary ways of educating students – one that works in Hickory, in Columbia, and around the world. As a liberal arts university, this is exactly the way we should be thinking and how we should be preparing students.

Church leaders also see the merger as a win-win for the denomination. The Rev. Mark T. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, points out that “both institutions will be enriched with a greater diversity and an increased capacity to serve both church and society.”

The Rev. Dr. William B. Trexler, LTSS Board Chair, agrees, pointing out that “Lenoir-Rhyne and Southern already share core Lutheran values, which the merger will simply reinforce. Significant financial savings are already resulting from sharing administrative costs and consolidating redundant services.”

“The merger is just more evidence that Lenoir-Rhyne isn’t a place that makes empty promises, says Rachel Nichols, L-R Vice President of Enrollment Management. “Five years ago, this North Carolina college began talking about itself as a “rising university” and challenging its students, faculty, and staff to ‘rise up.’”

“Well, we’re doing it. We’re rising up. We’ve added academic programs and athletic programs. We’re building a new chapel and a science center. We’re starting the graduate center in Asheville,” she enumerates. “Now, with this merger, we’re adding a School of Theology and a seminary in Columbia.”

As for the future? Charles Snipes, Chair L-R Board of Trustees, is optimistic. “As we continue to rise up, Lenoir-Rhyne will be one of the great success stories for higher education – and theological education – in the 21st century.”

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© 2012 Lenoir-Rhyne University