JACKSON, Tenn. – The Memphis Center for Urban and Theological Studies (MCUTS ) will merge with Union University in August and become the Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies, an academic unit of Union University.
MCUTS, which was founded in 2000 through a cooperative effort from several Memphis nonprofits and churches, “exists to provide affordable, accessible and accredited theological education and career-oriented degrees for those serving in an urban context to transform Memphis and the Mid-South for the kingdom of Christ,” according to its mission statement.
About 120 students are currently enrolled at MCUTS, with about 18 full-time faculty and staff. The merger will take effect Aug. 1, pending an acceptance by the board of Union’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, at its June meeting.
“What MCUTS has been doing and is doing is really strong and effective,” Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said. “They’re coming under the Union umbrella, and we’re expanding our mission to provide Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to church and society through this urban emphasis in Memphis.”
Union’s work has for years consisted of three main “streams,” Oliver said: traditional undergraduate, which is the central stream and what Union has been doing for nearly two centuries; graduate programs; and adult degree completion programs. MCUTS will add a fourth stream to the university.
“It’s for people who are in an urban setting who want to serve in an urban setting and who have largely not had access to higher education,” Oliver said.
MCUTS has previously partnered with an out-of-state institution that has been the degree-granting body for MCUTS’ programming. MCUTS President Joe Caldwell said in seeking a new partner, MCUTS was looking for an institution that shared its Christian faith and Christian values and that wanted to work with under-resourced communities in urban Memphis.
Caldwell said the new partnership with Union allows the school’s students to get a local degree from an institution that is reputable and better recognized in Memphis.
“Union brings a known name to the table so our students have the ability to better project themselves as they are looking for jobs beyond their degree,” Caldwell said.
In addition, the partnership with Union will lower tuition costs for MCUTS students, Caldwell said, and it will provide MCUTS students with increased opportunities for scholarships that the state of Tennessee provides. Those scholarships were not previously available because MCUTS was considered an out-of-state institution.
“That will prevent them from having to take out as many loans, and it will mean they are in less debt on the other side,” Caldwell said. “It will also give our students access to Union’s campus resources, either in Germantown or in Jackson, in a way that they’ve never had.”
MCUTS students are 96 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic, Caldwell said, and 98 percent come from lower income households. Most of the MCUTS students are adults, with a few who are closer to the traditional college age of 18-22.
Through MCUTS, Union will provide a Bachelor of Social Work in partnership with the School of Social Work, a Bachelor of Arts in urban theological studies, a Bachelor of Science in entrepreneurial leadership, a Bachelor of Science in nonprofit leadership and community transformation and Bachelor of Arts in applied psychology.
The MCUTS campus is located at Union Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis and will remain there after the merger with Union.
Oliver and Caldwell both emphasized that the partnership will not radically transform the work that MCUTS is doing. Caldwell added that the merger between MCUTS and Union is not because of any crisis or financial need on the part of MCUTS. The organization is financially stable, he said, and operates in the black.
Rather, Caldwell said the merger is the right thing for the future of MCUTS students.
Frank Anderson, who holds the Stephen Olford Chair of Expository Preaching at Union and is associate professor of ministry and missions and director of Union’s Center for Racial Reconciliation, served as the first MCUTS president when the organization began. He said he is thrilled to see this merger between two organizations that he loves.
“This is just another one of the amazing things that God has enabled me to see in my life,” Anderson said. “To have had a small part in MCUTS at the beginning and to see this entity still flourishing 18 years later, I can’t tell you how that makes me feel.
“Now, to see it becoming a part of Union, just encourages me that the future is bright for MCUTS because of this, and it’s bright for Union as well in terms of how we serve Memphis.”More information about MCUTS is available at www.uu.edu/mcuts.