Leavell College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate program, marks its 25th anniversary as a four-year college this year. However, the commitment to undergraduate training stretches all the way back to the seminary’s beginning.
Known first as the School of Christian Training, Leavell College began offering full bachelor’s degrees during the 1992-1993 school year. From the beginning, the college prioritized adult learners seeking a basic level of ministry training. In the early years, Leavell College only accepted students 25 years of age or older. Jimmy Dukes, the first dean of the four-year college, designed the bachelor’s program with the idea that many of Leavell College’s graduates would continue their study in the NOBTS graduate program.
While the age restriction has been removed, Leavell College still attracts many adult learners transitioning from other careers along with traditional, college-aged students. All students who attend Leavell College are required to articulate a call to ministry and must be endorsed by a church.
In 1997, the college was renamed as the College of Undergraduate Studies at NOBTS to better reflect its expanded mission. In 2003, NOBTS trustees approved the Leavell College name to honor the outstanding contributions of the Leavell family. Landrum Leavell II, NOBTS president from 1975 until 1995, was president of the seminary when the four-year college was founded. Earlier Roland Q. Leavell served as the seminary’s president from 1946 until 1958 and was instrumental in the acquisition and construction of the Gentilly campus.
Long Commitment to Undergraduate Training
The passion which led to the creation of Leavell College stretches all the way back to the seminary’s beginnings 100 years ago. And the first attempts at establishing a college date to the 1950s.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Baptist Bible Institute at the time, was founded in 1917 as a graduate school tasked with training pastors, ministers and missionaries. A four-year college degree was required for entrance into the degree programs. Noticing a number of God-called ministers in the area who did not have the college degree, visionary leaders at BBI created courses to offer basic ministry training for non-degree students.
The first efforts to formalize the undergraduate program came when NOBTS applied for membership in the American Association of Theological Schools in 1954. Because the accrediting agency only worked with graduate institutions, NOBTS created the School of Christian Training (SCT) to oversee the undergraduate program. SCT had a separate faculty that taught certificate and diploma-level courses when the school opened in 1956. Initial plans called for the development of a four-year, undergraduate degree.
The first incarnation of SCT was short-lived. By 1958, NOBTS officials dropped plans to develop undergraduate degrees, but continued to offer certificate and diploma training for those without a college degree through the department of Christian training.
The School of Christian Training was reinstituted in 1976 to bring better focus to the ongoing undergraduate training efforts. The second incarnation of SCT offered diplomas and associate degrees in multiple languages at multiple sites. Dr. Ray Rust, who passed away earlier this year, helped reestablish SCT and served as acting director during the first year.
The SCT was led by a series of committed leaders including first full-time director Dr. Fred Moseley, who served from 1977 until 1981; Dr. Jerry Breazeale, who was named director in 1981 and served until 1989; and Dukes, who led the SCT from 1990 until 1999. Under Dukes’ leadership, SCT developed and implemented four-year degrees designed to prepare students for graduate study.
One of the first men Dukes hired to serve on the faculty of the new college was Dr. Thomas Strong III. Strong joined the faculty as a New Testament professor. In 1999, when Dukes was asked to lead the seminary’s growing extension center system, Strong was selected to serve as the dean of the college.
“I am thankful for men like Dr. Jerry Breazeale and Dr. Jimmy Dukes who paved the way for the college to be what it is today,” Strong said.
Today, Leavell College offers four associate degree programs (Christian ministry, music and worship, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry) and two bachelor’s degree programs (Christian ministry and music). The college also offers diploma and certificate programs designed to enhance the ministry of the local church. Students can complete a degree by studying on the main campus (in semester-length classes or short-term workshops), at an extension center, or online.
Leavell College continues to play a vital role in the life of NOBTS. The college remains one of the top feeder colleges for NOBTS graduate students.