Nov 28, 2022 4 min read

Seminary Now Receives $5M Grant for Next Phase of Innovation

How Highland shaped a vision for transformative funding

  • Research
David Whited

David Whited
Principal, Design Research & Strategy

Northern Seminary receives $5 million grant to
create pathways for church leaders to receive
seminary-level education

At Highland, we’re always looking for new ways to bring value to our clients and grow alongside them. When Seminary Now was applying for a once-in-a-lifetime five million dollar grant that would give them the runway to create an industry-disrupting new model for seminary education, we were thrilled they asked us to work with them to shape the future vision of the platform.

Seminary Now is a religious netflix-style platform that provides educational video courses for self-learners. The Highland team partnered with Northern Seminary, InterVarsity Press, and other seminaries nation-wide over the last two years to create a new-to-the-world digital product using our digital innovation process

Having emerged as the leading cross-seminary digital education platform, Seminary Now caught the attention of a major foundation with an interest in reimagining adult learning and seminary education. Seminary Now had already seen subscribers move into a more formal degree program with a partner seminary. We wondered together if Seminary Now could offer even more subscribers seminary-level classes from partner schools on a future version of their platform as a low-cost way to sample different teaching styles, get one-on-one counseling, and if they felt ready, enroll at a school that fits with their personal needs and beliefs. 

To make this a reality, Seminary Now needed to answer three big questions:

  1. Do some of our subscribers want more formal education?

  2. If they do, what needs do they have and how can we redesign our platform to fulfill those needs?

  3. How do we create a true partnership across seminaries so everyone wins?

Shaping the Vision

We worked with the Seminary Now team on generative research with subscribers, non-traditional students, and leaders at partnered seminaries. In our research with subscribers who had already chosen to enroll in a seminary, we learned that they had wanted to enroll in seminary for years, but for different reasons had to delay that dream. That is, until they experienced a life-changing event that made them take the idea of enrolling more seriously. 

This group also experienced some form of ‘life opening up’ (more financial freedom, career stability/retirement, kids leaving for college, etc.) and this sealed their decision to enroll. They did a lot of research before choosing the school that felt ‘right’; a feeling that came from finding a seminary program that fit into their life and that aligned with their academic goals and sense of calling.

In our research with subscribers who had not enrolled with a seminary, we learned that many were early in their careers or had limited free time. This group was not confident that seminary was the right choice and felt the need to get opinions from others around them. The probability of enrolling increased for those who had a stronger sense of ‘personal calling’ and for those who had more free time.

And finally, in our research with leaders at partner seminaries, we learned that an equal playing field was pivotal. They each wanted to make sure that no seminaries would be marketed more than any other and that each school would share the same standards and policies. Making sure the platform enabled everyone to play by the same rules would incentivize potential partners to sign up. 

Visualizing the Experience 

From those conversations, the Highland team created a map that visualized the experience of these learners as they decided whether they should pursue a seminary education. The map was a visual representation of each group’s needs and outlined how the Seminary Now platform would have to change to address and accommodate them.

The purpose of the map was to make the value of this cutting-edge opportunity obvious and to present the grant team with an easy-to-understand breakdown of Seminary Now’s five year plan. 

A clear way forward

Seminary Now was awarded the five million dollar grant from the Lilly Foundation. You can read the announcement from the Seminary Now team here. This momentous award will make it possible for them to redesign the platform experience, recruit seminary partners, and create a guidance-based structure that students can confidently navigate. 

Congratulations to our partners at Seminary Now for the recognition of their incredible work in reimagining adult seminary education, and for the exciting road ahead!