AMU's IPT Program Winding Down After 13 Years

Published on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 17:13

As Ave Maria University prepares to welcome its largest freshman class ever, about 15 graduate students in Janesville, Wisc., are preparing for the last year of AMU's Institute of Pastoral Theology (IPT).

The IPT program will close after this coming academic year, AMU Vice President of Academic Affairs Michael Dauphinais said, because the three-year program was "financially unsustainable in light of declining enrollment."

Ave Maria University has been home to the IPT since 2001 when its founder, Douglas Bushman, left a similar program at the University of Dallas. It operated differently than traditional universities or online "distance-learning" programs, holding courses 10 weekends a year in various cities, and it needed to attract groups of students – called "cohorts" in each location who would commit to the program for three years. Over the years, classes were offered in Dallas, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Janesville, Wisc., and Ave Maria, FL, among other locations.

"It was expensive to run," Dr. Dauphinais said, "with the need for faculty to travel to different cities every weekend."

The IPT was separate from Ave Maria University's graduate programs in theology, offered at its campus in Ave Maria, FL, and AMU continues to offer both masters and doctorate degrees in theology.

One of the IPT's earliest students, Peg Meyer, said that the program's demise is a loss for Ave Maria University.

"It was the most incredible experience, and it transformed everyone who went through it," she said, adding that its graduates – who number more than 200 – are "torches of light out there transforming the world."

Many graduates have gone on to various Catholic ministries both in the U.S. and abroad.

One couple, Stefanus and Ingrid Tay, came to the U.S. from Indonesia to take the IPT program, graduating in 2009. They have used what they learned to spearhead a Catholic evangelization effort in Indonesia. Another graduate, Dale Recinella, gave up his law practice and now also serves on behalf of the Catholic bishops of Florida as Catholic Correctional Chaplain to Florida's Death Row and Solitary Confinement population.

Mrs. Meyer had never heard of Ave Maria University until she began the IPT program in Minneapolis, and it brought her and her husband, Larry, to the town of Ave Maria. They own a condominium in the town center and have donated time and money to the university, including constructing the large fountain on the university mall.

The Meyers were not alone in becoming involved with Ave Maria through the IPT, she said. "The benefits to the university have been remarkable. IPT families have bought six condos in the town center and many AMU undergraduate students went to AMU because their parents went to the IPT."

Ave Maria resident Jeff Ball graduated from the IPT in 2012 and says many in his class decided to move to the town. "I think it's a real shame they weren't able to keep it going," Mr. Ball said, calling his experience "fantastic."

Dr. Dauphinais said that the program's high expenses meant that "it was only cost efficient if it attracted sustained levels of students over multiple years," and the number of cohorts began dwindling several years ago. "In 2011 we only had two new cohort starts, only one in 2012 and none in 2013," he said. Founder Doug Bushman left in 2013 and now is at the Augustine Institute in Colorado. Both he and his successor as head of the program, Timothy Herrman, either turned down or did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.

Asked why he thought the program declined, Dr. Dauphinais said he thought that one factor might be an increasing number of online programs with similar material, and another reason might be that more seminaries now offer programs in pastoral theology that would appeal to the types of students who were attracted to the IPT.

"The IPT served the needs of the Church at a particular time, but became financially unsustainable and unable to attract new students," he said.

The program will officially draw to a close in the spring of 2015 when the remaining students in Janesville, Wisc., receive their Masters degrees.