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Dive Brief:

  • Lincoln Christian University, a small Illinois institution, will close May 31, and plans to transfer ownership of its seminary school to Ozark Christian College, an institution just over 400 miles away in Missouri. 
  • The announcement comes after Lincoln Christian made dramatic cuts to its academic programming last year, eliminating almost all of its undergraduate degrees and focusing primarily on ministry programs.
  • Ozark Christian plans to name the seminary school “Lincoln Seminary” and pair each of its degree programs with online-only options, according to a joint press release Wednesday. Ozark Christian would also receive Lincoln Christian’s $3.8 million student scholarship endowment.

Dive Insight:

Declines in enrollment and donor giving mean Lincoln Christian cannot continue to operate independently, its president, Silas McCormick, said Wednesday.

Lincoln Christian’s enrollment has cratered over the past decade, falling from 1,066 students in fall 2012 to just 258 students in fall 2022, according to federal data. And in the 2022 fiscal year, the university received almost $3.8 million in contributions and grants, down a little more than 11% from roughly $4.2 million the year prior. 

In fall 2019, Lincoln Christian had accumulated $9 million in debt, according to officials. The university sought to address it with significant academic cuts and the sale of roughly half of its campus for just under $4 million. As of now, Lincoln Christian has now brought that number down to $3.1 million. Ozark Christian estimates the debt will fall further, to $2.6 million, by the end of the current academic year.

“When they cease academic operations May 31, 2024, Lincoln Christian University will work to finish paying the remaining amount,” Ozark Christian President Matt Proctor said in a statement Wednesday. “But rather than face academic closure under a massive, all-assets-swallowing debt, the Lincoln leadership has instead preserved something of great value to pass on to future generations.”

Lincoln Christian’s seminary students interested in continuing their programs at Ozark will not see higher tuition prices or additional degree requirements, the college said. 

Through May 2024, Lincoln Christian will continue operating its seminary in Illinois. Afterward, the seminary will move to Ozark Christian’s campus in Joplin, Missouri, pending approval from the colleges’ respective accreditors and other regulatory agencies.

Ozark Christian will not be hiring Lincoln Christian’s employees, the joint statement says. 

Lincoln Christian is working on teach-out agreements for graduate students whose programs will not be continued under Ozark Christian. The two colleges are also working on a transfer agreement guaranteeing all credits from Lincoln Christian’s two remaining undergraduate programs will transfer to Ozark Christian.

More information, including an FAQ for students, donors, and alumni, is forthcoming, officials said. 

“In the meantime, we do want to make a request of you: please help us finish this academic year well,” McCormick said. “A good finish for us means a good start for our sister school who has come alongside us in a time of need and will carry on our work.”


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