Online degrees from bricks and mortar places. Seminaries?


I just came across an announcement on Twitter that an online education company (2tor – “tutor”) has announced partnerships with institutions like Georgetown University and USC to provide for credit graduate degrees through online work.

“2tor has partnered with University of Southern California (USC), Georgetown University, and University of North Carolina (UNC) to offer online degrees. Only a select few Master’s degrees are offered; social work and education at USC; nursing at Georgetown; and government and business at UNC. Instead of having to relocate across the country, you can earn a Master’s degree from one of the schools pretty much anywhere in the world.

The company helps colleges create online courses, provides an online environment where students can access their courses, invests in schools to make their programs work, and supplies schools with infrastructure that handles student sign-up, course registration, and graduation processing. Instead of typical online classes, where lectures are videotaped or assignments are placed on a message board, 2tor uses webcams to connect students with their professors and other students. 2tor even offers mobile apps so students can stay on top of their classes.

2tor competes primarily with EmbanetCompass, which creates similar partnerships with academic institutions and helps colleges provide online degree programs. EmbanetCompass has partnered with 20 universities, including Northwestern, Howard, Wake Forest, and USC.”

More here.

That’s pretty amazing. Assuming that 2tor is legit and not a place that has a business model created around scamming students out of their financial aid packages, this may be the way forward for seminaries.

Speaking as a member of our Commission on Ministry here in Arizona, and a member of our Board of Examining Chaplains, and as a person who’s been tasked with creating non-traditional preparation plans for ordinands, having something like this available at a reasonable cost, would be huge. There are very few second career vocations that can pick up and move their families to a three year residential seminary. The old business model of asking such students to cash out their home equity to pay for seminary isn’t working now because all the home equity has evaporated. It’s putting the students and the seminarians into an incredible bind.

But what if the seminaries reduced their costs for face-to-face teaching by closing many of their dorms, etc, and outsourced the administration of their online course work to something like 2tor (or one of its competitors)? I’m hoping there would be savings for the student, who just has to pay straight tuition as a result and doesn’t have to move his or her family out of state. It would also be a significant savings for the institution which wouldn’t have to create the online program from scratch, wouldn’t have to spend any significant resources supporting the IT side, and would be able to up and running pretty quickly I imagine.

Speaking as someone from Arizona, we do have money (contributed yearly by all our parishes) to support our seminarians. If they could stay in state, work part-time, and do their preparation online… a whole lot of people would be happy. I can imagine being able to train clergy without asking them to incur significant educational debt; which given clergy salaries can be a major problem.

Plus, it would open up a whole new class of students (and a new income stream) for the seminaries willing to embrace this. Perhaps places like Seabury might become virtual institutions, allowing them to use existing real estate to support their mission in a much more flexible manner.

Seems to me like this could be the best of both worlds. You keep the institution (which is important for the health of the Episcopal Church as a whole) and we find a way to keep our access to educated clergy (a key feature of what people tell me they appreciate about the Episcopal Church).

Anyone know anything about the business model behind 2tor?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Some seminaries are already trying this, but it begs two questions. First is there any desire left for the corporate formation that happens in a residential seminary? Second, while it is great that we might make more education possible for less money, what do we do with the he many have of actually earning a living as a clergy person in a time when “livings” are dwindling?

    One recent study shows that graduates of three year seminaries stay in ordained ministry longer than those who attend distance learning options.

  2. I think there’s a great desire for corporate formation, but I’m not convinced that it can happen only at a residential seminary. Our deacons school and our existing “priests in training” reading group has tried to create a local formation community as much as possible here at the Cathedral in Phoenix.

    The second concern, about dwindling livings, is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s a real issue sure.

    And I should be clear, what we’ve done here in Arizona is to send people, for whom a three year residential seminary program is appropriate, to a traditional seminary. It’s the older students, or ones with families particularly, that we’re struggling to find ways to provide preparation.

  3. One of the parts of Seminary I treasure the most was meeting people from around the country and from different Dioceses. It widened my view of the larger Episcopal church- particularly the parts farther from my initial geographical region. I worry that if online Seminary becomes the norm, people could live and serve within a small geographical center, and our clergy could become less aware and less tolerant of those from other parts of the country, much less other parts of the world.

    At Seminary, I was blessed (though I may not have thought so at the time) to study with clergy from around the world pursuing advanced degrees: people from Burma, Liberia, the Sudan, Germany (east and west), China, and Nigeria. Many had very different views than my own. It was sometimes a test of my patience to hear their views– especially when they were vastly different from my own–but I couldn’t ignore them, look away, mutter under my breath, or make snide comments — all of which I could do if I had been taking the same classes with them online. Part of my formation, I now readily admit, came from being exposed to other views, angry classmates, different cultural norms. I’m not sure I would have gotten those things online. Learning toleration, empathy, and understanding of many points of view has served me well in parishes.

    I worry our clergy may become more insular, less Anglican Community oriented if not given the opportunity to meet other seekers after truth– in person. If this flaw could be rectified somehow, I would be more willing to embrace this new technology.


  4. Timothy Watt says

    It appears that this company primarily deals in creating consortium agreements between different universities and then provides a student portal through which courses are taken. In the end, though, the degree has to be conferred from an accredited university. In the case of the universities noted, all are regionally accredited, so bully for them. The outcome of this is the better liklihood of transferability of credit on which a consortium relies. Essentially, each university in the program agrees that they will accept the credits from specific programmatic courses offered by other universities. In so doing, a student may be able to elect to take courses at a more cost-efficient school which are “guaranteed” to transfer to the conferring institution. This is most often seen in transferability of credits from local community colleges to state universities. Additionally, schools in consortium agreements can work with one another to assure funding from Federal Title IV programs for coursework taken in parallel at multiple institutions. Without such an agreement, the student’s primary (that is, conferring) institution is the only one entitled to draw down federal funds.

    The interesting thing here is that a third party broker is essentially making money by running the consortium on behalf of the pool of universities participating as well as providing a supported student portal through which the courses are taken. In many respects, this makes sense as the legalities of management of consortiums is very specialized and their creation is quite time consuming. I suspect that this can actually be done in house by TEC and that there are many members who have the expertise (my area is Federal Student Aid) to at least spec this out… The primary question then becomes, which seminary or seminaries, become the conferring institutions?

    Tangentially in response to corporate formation, I would add a residency program (Two week intensive courses, for instance) where online students gather for some of the more pastoral focused coursework. Maybe this could be two-fold and happen both at the seminaries as well as more locally at diocesan cathedrals. In any case, each diocese would have to work that part out in the manner best suited them as corporate formation is extremely important.

    I know this is a lot of stream-of-consciousness here so please forgive me if I am off-topic. As a lay member I am not totally versed in ordination preparation, but I know quite a bit about running online schools.

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