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September 22, 2022
Sioux Falls-based Kairos University has received a $5 million grant to expand its innovative approach to theological education.
The grant comes from Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic foundation established in 1937 by JK Lilly Sr. and his sons, Eli and JK Jr., through donations of stock in their pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Company.
It’s part of the organization’s Pathways for Tomorrow initiative, which is designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada prioritize and address the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare the pastoral leaders of the Christian congregations of today and tomorrow.
“We are grateful to have the opportunity to manage the resources provided by this grant. Together with our growing list of partner organizations, we are catalyzing a movement in theological education that enables distributed and differentiated learning with the goal of developing pastoral leaders who thrive in their vocations for the benefit of others,” Greg Henson, CEO of Kairos University, said in a statement.
Although the school’s history dates back to 1858, Kairos University operates as a “164-year-old start-up”. As of 2013, all of its students lived within driving distance of its campus in Sioux Falls, then Sioux Falls Seminary. Like many theological schools, its conventional approach to education meant that students completed their programs by attending traditional online or on-campus courses and often incurred crippling levels of academic debt along the way.
The university was the primary source and context for student learning. The structure meant that even students who could afford a degree program or were willing to borrow were often unable to enroll because the weekly and time structure of classes made them inaccessible.
In response, the Kairos Project was launched in 2014 “with a mission to guide thriving followers of Jesus in their vocations for the good of the world,” the university said. What started as an experiment with 15 students now includes a community of over 1,000 students, 1,500 mentors and dozens of partner organizations. Student loans have collectively fallen from nearly $1 million a year to less than $50,000, and graduates are starting context-appropriate ministries in their local communities.
Kairos University is one of 16 theological schools that have received grants to fund large-scale, highly collaborative programs under the Pathways initiative.