By Chris Moon
Four months after announcing an overhaul of its educational model, Lincoln Christian University has begun making moves to repurpose portions of its campus.
The university in Lincoln, Ill., has a contract to sell its student apartments to a private developer. Meanwhile, it has entered into a 10-year lease agreement with a local church that will use the university’s chapel and athletic facilities.
LCU will continue to operate from multiple campus buildings, and LCU president Silas McCormick said he expects the university to do so for the “foreseeable future.”
“Truly, I think it’s amazing,” said McCormick, who expected the process of finding other uses for portions of the campus to take years. “To have it happen this quickly has been fantastic.”
In February LCU announced sweeping changes to its program offerings as it grapples with a difficult economic environment in higher education.
The university is eliminating all of its non-ministry degree programs. It will retain its seminary offerings and just two bachelor’s level programs as it narrows its focus to ministry education.
The changes are an effort to seek a new model for LCU after a long struggle with declining enrollment. Enrollment at LCU has dropped by 50 percent during the past decade, and the university has seen a total of $3.5 million in net operating deficits during the past nine years.
A major piece of LCU’s new model will see its professors offering classes at partnering churches, recognition that a growing number of congregations are working to train their own ministry staff.
TWO REAL ESTATE DEALS
But as the university pursues its “LCU To You” concept, it is seeking to reduce its footprint in the city of Lincoln.
Not all of the LCU campus will be needed under its new model, which will rely mostly on nonresidential students who attend class online or at remote locations. At the same time, the university is looking for ways to retire a $7.6 million loan with Christian Financial Resources.
After its February announcement, LCU was approached by a real estate developer about buying LCU’s 56-unit apartment complex. The developer plans to invest $1 million in renovations in the property and continue to lease to LCU students who attend university and seminary classes on campus.
A purchase price for the apartments has not been released. The apartments consist of four buildings of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.
The original plan was for the college to maintain ownership of the apartments. But the benefits of selling won out, McCormick said. Renovation of the 1970s-era apartments is much needed.
Meanwhile, the university has entered into a lease agreement with Open Arms Christian Fellowship—a 15-year-old church planted by an LCU graduate—that will use the college’s chapel and athletic facilities. The church also will take responsibility for the campus’s three residence halls.
Open Arms has an option to purchase that property within the first year of the deal.
The church had been operating out of a storefront in Lincoln but now is meeting in LCU’s Hargrove Chapel.
All told, McCormick said the sale of the student apartments and the potential sale of the chapel, athletic facilities, and dormitories could retire more than half of the university’s debt.
And, interestingly, LCU’s campus would return to the footprint it had before multiple expansions happened during the 1970s and beyond. The original cafeteria, gym, and chapel will continue to be part of the LCU campus—as will Restoration Hall, which houses the seminary.
“We’re sort of giving up the last 40 years of additions,” McCormick said.
As the dust settles on its real estate deals, LCU continues to work out the details of its new educational model.
Enrollment at the university is adjusting to the new, more focused mission of LCU.
The university had about 220 undergraduate students enrolled during the recently completed spring semester. But many of those will transfer to other institutions as LCU phases out almost all of its undergraduate programs.
McCormick anticipates having around 90 undergraduate students during the fall.
That’s better than was expected, McCormick said. The new model is geared to have about 300 total students—50 of those undergraduate.
“So, we’re pretty pleased with how many are sticking with us,” McCormick said.
A faculty retreat is scheduled for early August to do the heavy lifting on planning the university’s transition to its new model, McCormick said. The transition will take all of next year.
The university has been helped by a $50,000 Lilly Endowment grant that initially was used to develop its new strategic plan. The remaining funds have been redirected toward implementing the plan.
Part of the plan already is moving forward. The university has hired Jim Estep to lead the Lincoln Christian Institute, which will provide non-credit educational seminars and classes at local churches.
The institute is geared to provide theological education—tuition-free—for those who are not interested in earning formal college or seminary degrees.
LCU hopes the institute’s work also will assist in recruiting new students and finding more churches to partner financially with the university.
For now, McCormick is happy the university’s transition is moving forward as quickly as it has. He called the real estate deals “a huge component” of the new plan.
“I don’t think anything like this can go any better,” he said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.