Kristi Monesmith wants to give her children the best educational opportunities possible. She resonates with mothers of low-income households who struggle to find quality educational opportunities for their children.This is one of the reasons she is helping lead the new Bethel University extension studies (BU-X) program as academic director.
“Personally, I really feel strongly about…the affordability of this education and the quality,” Monesmith said. “I want them to have a high-quality education in their backyard.”
BU-X is designed to bring Christian higher education and ministry training to local communities across the United States. The BU-X staff is partnering with local churches in these communities to host a Bethel University education that is more affordable and practical for students.
According to promotional flyers, the average cost for BU-X students is around $10,000 per year. This is before factoring in federal and state aid and church grants students can receive. At this estimate, BU-X students are paying $25,400 less annually than the average four-year student living on campus.
Monesmith said she has encountered incoming college students who would not have applied to Bethel if not for the BU-X program.
“The goal is not to steal students from the Bethel University traditional program,” Monesmith said. “It is for the students who – and I think the majority [of students] in the program right now – would not have gone to Bethel traditionally because they couldn’t have afforded it.”
The BU-X program is targeting 18 to 25-year-old students. Three of the students currently enrolled in the program are a little older than the average incoming college freshman. One of the BU-X students went to college when they were younger but did not have success.
The classes are taught by full-time or adjunct faculty online. As the program grows, the goal is to provide on-site classes in the future. All classes will be overseen by the local church-hired site directors.
The churches partnered with the BU-X program so far are Nappanee Missionary Church (NMC), St. Mark Missionary Church, Grace Church in Camby, IN and Colonial Woods Missionary Church. The five-year plan target for BU-X is to be partnered with 80 sites and 800 students.
“As long as [churches] align with Bethel’s commitments and ethos, the denomination is less important,” BU-X Executive Director Terry Linhart said. “We won’t just partner with anybody, so they have to kind of align with Bethel, but they don’t have to be a part of the Missionary Church [USA].”
Down the road, Linhart said they are exploring ways to partner with international churches and sites. For now, the focus is to nurture and grow the program at home. Jordan Dillon, director of church partnerships for BU-X, serves as the liaison between the local church sites and Bethel.
The program always planned on utilizing Zoom to communicate with students even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Monesmith said she’s teaching a live College Success class for this semester.
Nineteen students are currently enrolled in this year’s inaugural BU-X program. The students can earn a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree. The majors being offered include ministry leadership, business administration, cybersecurity, behavioral & social science, organizational management and business marketing.
While earning their degree, BU-X students are required to complete a practicum in the career they want to pursue.
“That is where [students] are getting…eight to 10 hours a week of practical experience in ministry,” Monesmith said. “For example, if a student wants to go into kid ministry, they’re actually getting kid min. experience throughout the week.”
The goal of the practicum is to help students gain experience and build a working relationship with professionals in the field.
But the unique appeal to the BU-X program is not just the affordability.
“This is not just a thing that appeals because of cost,” Linhart said. “It appeals because of the community, when done well and that’s something…a campus doesn’t provide all of the time. You can cohort in very significant, intimate ways as a group as you go through this experience.”
Monesmith said they are seeing adult mentors and students develop relationships with one another as well. It is an educational experience the BU-X staff hopes to nurture as the program progresses.
Bethel University announced the program through press releases and fliers, but much of the marketing will come from the church sites. Linhart said the BU-X site at NMC is promoting the program through their website and merchandise. One of the products NMC created is coffee cups with the caption, “BU@NMC” on them.
“The churches actually get excited about this,” Linhart said. “They create their own brand. They have their own identity. Everyone’s a little different from each other. They all work with Kristi on how to do it.”
If churches are interested in partnering with Bethel University to become a BU-X site, they should fill out this form or contact Jordan Dillon at firstname.lastname@example.org. If students are interested in applying for the program, they should fill out this inquiry form.