Concordia University System:

Past, Present, Future

Learn more about the treasure we have in our Concordia universities

In its adoption of Resolution 7-04B, the 2023 LCMS convention in Milwaukee significantly changed the governance of the Concordia University System (CUS). The board of regents of each Concordia university, while communicating with the CUS regarding strategic planning, is itself responsible for the institution’s governance, planning, administration and management of assets, resources and operations. The Synod — through the CUS and its newly established process of standard development, visitation and affirmation — retains oversight of Lutheran identity and mission, doctrine and practice at each Concordia university, for all academic programs, chapel, and campus life.

This page, developed prior to the 2023 convention to provide information about Res. 7-04B, will continue to provide relevant updates, as available, about the history of the Concordias, their growth from small Lutheran teacher training schools to competitive regional universities, the current pressures they face, and their future for years to come, by God’s grace.




Early history of the Concordias

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  • One of the main objectives codified in the 1847 constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was founding seminaries to train pastors and schools to train teachers1. Furthermore, the constitution stipulated that member congregations of the Synod must provide a Christian education for their children.2 Whenever a new congregation was planted, a parochial school ought to be founded as well3.

    The Synod’s central emphasis on education, combined with the hundreds of thousands of German immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the 19th century, made the need for more pastors and teachers urgent from the beginning.4

    The Synod’s first “normal school” — a two-year school for training teachers — was founded by the 1857 convention as a department of the practical seminary in Fort Wayne.5 By the time of the Civil War, the Synod had seminaries operating in both St. Louis and Fort Wayne. However, because of the war, the St. Louis seminary was temporarily moved to Fort Wayne, displacing Fort Wayne’s normal school. The normal school needed a permanent campus.6

    Members of Zion Lutheran Church in Addison, Ill., met this need, donating 20 acres of land and funding the construction of the main hall. In 1864, Addison Teachers Seminary (which would become Concordia Teachers College in 1913, Concordia College in 1979 and Concordia University Chicago in 1990) opened its doors.7

    Of course, the demand for more pastors and teachers never slackened. Over the course of the next century, 12 more schools were founded for the sake of Christ-centered formation and education of teachers and pastors.

    Like the school in Addison, St. John’s College in Winfield, Kan., was founded in 1893 through the generosity of pious lay people who were committed to Christian education and wished to provide local students with the means to become teachers and pastors.8

    St. John’s College; Concordia College in Mequon, Wis. (founded 1881); Concordia Progymnasium in Bronxville, N.Y. (1881); St. Paul’s College in Concordia, Mo. (1884); Concordia College, St. Paul (1893); and Concordia Teachers College, Seward, Neb. (1894), all began as gymnasiums, a German style of education roughly equivalent to an American high school. These schools gave students the opportunity to study languages (German, English and Latin); Scripture and the catechism; mathematics, history and geography; and practical courses in catechetics and school administration, all in preparation for their continued training to become pastors or teachers.


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Expansion of the Concordias

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  • At the 1920 convention, the Synod officially recommended that these schools adopt the American format of a four-year high school followed by a two-year junior college education.9 Some schools, like Addison Teachers College and Concordia Teachers College in Seward, were able to establish junior colleges early on. Other schools, like Portland Lutheran High School (1905), Alabama Lutheran Academy (1922) and Lutheran Concordia College of Texas (1926), opened as typical American high schools, adding junior colleges shortly after their founding.

    In many cases, schools were founded in response to a regional population boom, which heightened the demand for teachers and pastors. For example, when congregations in the LCMS Minnesota District took off in the late 19th century, a district committee presented the following considerations at the 1893 convention:

    1. The present synodical schools, though crowded, are not able to meet the crying need for pastors;
    2. Each of the present pastors is serving an average of three congregations besides conducting a school;
    3. Many more students could be won for church work if they could attend a school near home.10

    These considerations are representative of the motives behind all the Synod’s schools. Concordia College, St. Paul, which would eventually become Concordia University, St. Paul, was founded to meet these needs.

    Similar stories reoccurred throughout the 20th century: in 1963, the Synod founded Concordia Lutheran Junior College (which would become Concordia University, Ann Arbor) to serve Lutherans east of the Mississippi River. Southern California’s population boom gave rise to Christ College Irvine (which would become Concordia University, Irvine), founded in 1972 to supply more pastors and teachers west of the Rockies.

    In other cases, a boom in parochial schools necessitated the founding of a regional teachers college. The dedicated mission work of pioneer educator Dr. Rosa J. Young, who founded many Lutheran parochial schools throughout Alabama, created a high demand for a school that would train more Lutheran teachers. Thus, Alabama Lutheran Academy, which would eventually become Concordia College, Selma, was born.11

    In 1939, Seward and River Forest became the Synod’s first four-year colleges12. Soon it was commonplace for the Synod’s other “preparatory schools” (four-year high school, two-year junior college) to act as “feeder” schools to the Synod’s newly established senior colleges13. For example, upon completing six years of schooling at Concordia College in Mequon, a student could finish his studies to become a teacher at either River Forest or Seward.

    At the 1935 convention, in response to high demand for general Christian education, and to fill available space at the Synod’s schools, the Synod resolved to recommend “a further experiment in general higher education and coeducation be made at Bronxville, Oakland, Austin, and River Forest,” marking the first shift away from the schools’ original purpose of forming pastors and teachers.14

    Beginning with the 1944 convention, the Synod began urging its junior colleges to pursue accreditation, which would make it easier for their students to transfer credits to a senior college; this Synod committee also acknowledged that the accreditation standards were worthy of pursuit and would help the schools become excellent institutions.15

    As of 1947, only about half of the students enrolled in the Synod’s schools were pursuing teaching or pre-seminary degrees.16 To renew focus on educating future pastors, the 1947 convention officially founded the Senior College in Fort Wayne, where pre-seminary students from other schools would come to finish their education prior to entering seminary.17

    Eventually, most of the Synod’s schools became four-year institutions, providing college degrees as we know them today. Beginning in the 1960s, many colleges added additional church work programs, such as degrees for deaconesses, directors of Christian education and directors of parish music.18 Alongside traditional liberal arts degrees, additional disciplines — ranging from health care, to engineering, to criminal justice — would become widely available at many of the schools as well. As the years went on, students studying church work began to be in the minority.


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The Concordia University System

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  • Over the years, the Synod’s institutions of higher learning have faced a range of challenges. In the earliest days, students chopped their own firewood and lived in primitive conditions. The colleges had to weather the Great Depression and both World Wars, world events that strained enrollment.

    Later in the 20th century, financial difficulties dogged many of the schools. For example, though St. John’s College closed its high school to preserve the college and cut spending, in the end the school was not able to stay in the black, finally closing in 1986. St. Paul’s College in Concordia, Mo., which also closed in 1986, took a similar course; the high school is still in operation today.

    The Concordia University System (CUS) was established in 1992 to address the schools’ financial difficulties, help improve the quality of education provided by each of the schools and cultivate further cooperation among the universities, allowing students to transfer easily between the Concordias. The system would also help Synod leaders and the schools collaborate more closely.19

    With the addition of graduate programs in 1990, Concordia, River Forest, and Concordia, Mequon, had become universities. Five more Concordias became universities after the CUS was established.

    But in 2018, 2020 and 2021, respectively, Concordia College Alabama, Concordia University Portland, and Concordia College New York, closed. Though deep losses for the church, the closures reflected a national trend: between 2004 and 2020, 826 U.S. colleges and universities closed. In 2021 alone, 35 closed.20

    It is important to note that by the second half of the 20th century, all the Concordias had become reliant on student tuition, government funding, donations and other sources to finance their operations. In the early days, most or all of the schools’ needs were met by the Synod, but as the years went on, the schools grew beyond the Synod’s ability to support.

    Nevertheless, between 2005 and 2020, the Synod invested $92 million dollars to underwrite the CUS schools. That amount includes more than $5 million given to Concordia College, Alabama, by corporate Synod and the CUS between 2006 and 2016. In 2016, the Synod convention pledged another $4 million dollars, but the school — located in an economically depressed area, with most of its students coming from families with incomes below $25,00021 and with stiff competition from state schools, which offered a wider variety of degrees and cheaper tuition22 — had to close its doors in 2018.23

    Portland and Bronxville faced similar challenges, leading the BORs of those universities to close their institutions as well.

    The closure of any beloved institution is painful. The last few years have been difficult, especially for the communities, alumni, faculty and friends affected by the closures.


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Cultural shifts and demographic pressures

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  • The transition of the CUS institutions from small, church-work-focused colleges to four-year, regional universities has brought with it abundant blessings. Lutheran students in many fields have been able to receive their education in a Lutheran setting. Some non-Lutheran and even non-Christian students have heard the Gospel while at a Concordia and have joined the LCMS. Thousands of students have received a quality Lutheran education and gone on to serve in a variety of vocations.

    However, the transition has also led to new challenges. The Concordias have spent decades working to add many competitive, high-caliber programs, but, as seen, enrollment in church work programs has dwindled. Currently, only 4% of Concordia students are enrolled in church work and pre-church work programs. Further, only 11% of those on CUS campuses are LCMS24. The percentage of Lutheran, or even Christian, faculty has also declined. Naturally, these shifts can make it difficult to maintain a distinctly Lutheran ethos.

    Further, the Synod’s universities have dealt with the same demographic challenges as all institutions of higher education over the past several decades. Colleges and universities across the board are dealing with declining enrollment while attempting to prepare for the looming 2025 “enrollment cliff.” This “cliff” — caused by declining birthrates during and after the 2008 economic slump — is predicted to cause a 15% decrease in the number of people reaching college age in the four years following 2025.25 In the meantime, Christian institutions of higher education have faced another threat: a culture hostile to Christianity — particularly within academia, which has served as the cutting edge of a secular, progressive agenda contrary to the Gospel and the testimony of Scripture.


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The way forward: Together in the Gospel

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  • Yet within this cultural minefield lies not only an opportunity to proclaim the truth, but also an answer to financial and enrollment concerns. As students survey their options for schooling, there is no shortage of legacy Christian schools that have compromised their mission in the face of cultural pressure. There is also not much that sets these institutions apart from secular schools.

    But among institutions of higher education that have remained faithful to their founding mission, even in the face of great cultural resistance, there is growth.26 Such institutions — places where parents can send their children knowing that they will be faithfully taught and where students can go knowing they will be faithfully led — offer an alternative both to secular universities and to legacy “Christian” schools that have lost their foundation in the Word of God.

    Holding to that Word is not easy — as seen in the erosion of so many Christian universities. But remaining faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions is not only the right thing to do; it is also the prudent and profitable thing to do. Fidelity to their Lutheran distinctiveness will not weaken but will strengthen and grow the Synod’s universities, allowing them to offer what so many other universities no longer do — a robust, competitive education in a faithful, Christian setting.

    To support LCMS schools in remaining faithful in the face of a shifting cultural and academic landscape, the Synod in convention has repeatedly called for strengthened connections between the Synod and its universities: in 2013 (Res. 5-01A), 2016 (Res. 7-02B) and 2019 (Res. 7-03).

    In response to this latest call, the 7-03 proposal seeks to navigate this difficult task in a proactive, realistic way — maintaining the structure and uniqueness of the universities, while putting in place processes that will help them walk together in service to the LCMS and her mission.

    The proposal acknowledges that the current structure of the CUS is the best way forward. It includes a process of visitation and ecclesiastical affirmation of each university that will encourage and assist the Concordias in walking together according to a set of Lutheran Identity and Mission Outcome Standards developed by CUS in partnership with advisors from the universities.

    With confessional intentionality and biblical courage, the Concordias can stand together, firmly resisting the pressures of the culture and continuing to confess the truths of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. It is hard work. Many Christian colleges have surrendered already — either to the cultural pressures or the demographic and financial ones.

    But it is worth the fight — for the sake of the viability of the Concordias in a time of higher education decline; for the sake of maintaining a faithful, godly educational environment for those who seek it; and for the sake of the church’s faithfulness to that mission upon which the LCMS was founded: to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified, with clarity and boldness.


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Late overture from BOD

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  • The LCMS Board of Directors (BOD), at its May 19, 2023, meeting, adopted a resolution to submit a late overture in response to the assignment given to the Board by 2019 Convention Res. 7-03. Following the 2019 convention, a committee was formed to carry out the assignment given under Res. 7-03. This committee met monthly for 14 months and submitted to the BOD a proposed overture — one that follows the directive given under Res. 7-03 — to modify the governance structure of the Concordia University System (CUS) and the Synod’s Concordia universities.

    At its February 2021 meeting, the BOD accepted this proposed overture and submitted it to the Synod for comment, as provided under Res. 7-03. This comment period took place between March and September 2021. The 7-03 committee considered this input, made changes to the proposed overture, and submitted a revised proposed overture to the BOD in October 2022. This essentially completed the work of the 7-03 committee.

    Before this revised proposed overture was considered by the BOD, the university presidents discussed a possible alternative approach to address the directive under Res. 7-03. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison encouraged the presidents to pursue their alternative approach and to request the BOD to delay action on the 7-03 committee’s revised draft to give the presidents the opportunity to present an alternative approach. The BOD agreed.

    The presidents submitted a revised proposed overture for the BOD to consider at its February 2023 meeting. The Board considered this submission and encouraged further discussion. Also in February, a presentation was provided to the LCMS Council of Presidents by 7-03 Committee Chairman Christian Preus and Concordia University, St. Paul, St. Paul, Minn., President Rev. Dr. Brian Friedrich. This presentation explained the two approaches being considered and their fundamental differences.

    Extensive discussions then occurred between representatives of the BOD, the university presidents, the CUS, and Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias. These discussions focused initially on two primary issues: first, the fundamental difference between categorizing the Concordia universities as "agencies," as provided in current bylaws, or "affiliates," as proposed in the 7-03 committee revised draft overture, which appears in the Convention Workbook, R61, pp. 137-59; second, retaining the CUS but focusing its work on right-hand kingdom matters and changing the proposed "accreditation" process to an "ecclesiastical visitation" process.

    These discussions resulted in a draft overture that retains agency status for the universities and establishes a visitation process to be conducted by the CUS. This draft overture, while retaining a substantial portion of the 7-03 committee’s proposed overture, also makes other detail changes in conformance with these two fundamental differences from the 7-03 committee’s proposed overture. This includes changes necessary to address financial and governance issues that have evolved over the past several decades.

    These discussions and the development of an alternative proposed overture took place while the Workbook was being finalized and going to print. Both the late overture adopted by the BOD and the 7-03 committee’s proposed overture will be available for consideration by Floor Committee 7. Comment and input are continuing to be received, including recent submissions from Concordia university boards of regents. This is a continuing process, with Floor Committee 7 now considering how best to carry out 2019 Res. 7-03 and ultimately submitting a resolution to the 2023 convention. It is the convention that ultimately will decide whether and how to modify the CUS and Synod universities governance structure.

    It is noteworthy that this late overture, placed into 2023 convention business by the Synod BOD, results not only from 2019 Convention Res. 7-03. It emerges from a series of Synod convention actions (2013 Res. 5-01A, 2016 Res. 7-02B and 2019 Res. 7-03). The culminating 2019 convention action directed the Synod BOD — with active involvement of the Synod president; the CUS Board, Advisory Council and president; the CUS institutions’ boards of regents; and others as needed — to propose a new governance plan for consideration and adoption by the 2023 convention. The process directed by 2019 Res. 7-03 required the concurrence of the CUS Advisory Council and the CUS Board of Directors. (Many more details of the process that was undertaken, including the draft overture from the 7-03 committee, are included in the Convention Workbook, R61, pp. 137–59.)

    This overture is presented in pursuit of a realistic, sustainable and transparent framework, satisfying and acting upon the objectives of 2019 Res. 7-03. While not yet having the formal concurrence of the CUS Advisory Counsel and CUS BOD, it is presented by the Synod BOD for consideration by the relevant floor committee and, it is hoped, by the convention. While making significant changes to the “original” 7-03 committee draft, it continues to differentiate between “right-hand” and “left-hand” aspects of Concordia governance, providing significant structure and transparency on the “right-hand,” visitation side, and helpful clarification of roles on the “left-hand,” property and business side. It is hoped that increased clarity about roles of university boards of regents, the CUS, and the Synod BOD, combined with the work set forth for the triennium to come, will facilitate improvement in all the dimensions identified by 2019 Res. 7-03.

    This late overture has been accepted by the Synod president’s committee for convention presentation and is being shared with the Synod in advance of Floor Committee Weekend in the hope of accommodating as much reflection and comment as possible. This input may be submitted by email at, specifying that it is for Floor Committee 7 and related to the late CUS governance overture submitted by the BOD.


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Frequently asked questions




Footnotes and references

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    • 1 “Our First Synodical Constitution,” Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly XVI, no. 1 (April 1943): 5, 7, 9.
    • 2 “Our First Synodical Constitution,” 3.
    • 3 Alfred J. Freitag, College with a Cause: A History of Concordia Teachers College (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 15.
    • 4 Freitag, College, 35.
    • 5 Oswald B. Overn, History of Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota (St. Paul: 1947), 2.
    • 6 Freitag, College, 26.
    • 7 Freitag, College, 29–30.
    • 8 L.H. Deffner, A Century of Blessings: A Centennial History of the Kansas District, (Kansas: 1961), 71.
    • 9 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 1920 (June 16–25, 1920), “Resolution to Raise the Standard of Our Colleges,” 16.
    • 10 Overn, History, 5.
    • 11 The LCMS, “LCMS Statement Regarding the Closure of Concordia College Alabama,Reporter, Feb. 22, 2018, accessed May 19,
    • 12 Katherine Moulds, Generations of Sowers Sharing the Word: A Centennial History of Concordia College, Seward Nebraska (Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 1994), 28. Freitag, College, 153.
    • 13 Mark Wahlers, “A Cloud of Witnesses: The History of Concordia Lutheran College of Texas,” (Ph.D. diss,. The University of Texas at Austin, 1989), 100–101.
    • 14 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 1938 (June 15–24, 1938), “Report of the Committee on Higher Education,” 40.
    • 15 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 1947 (July 20–29, 1947), “Report of the Board for Higher Education,” 170–172.
    • 16 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 1947, 178.
    • 17 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 1947, 175-176.
    • 18 Wahlers, “A Cloud of Witnesses,” 105.
    • 19 Paula Schlueter Ross, “System Aims to Help Schools Reach ‘Full Potential,’” Reporter, Dec. 14, 1992.
    • 20 The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Convention Proceedings 2023 (July 29–Aug. 3, 2023), Concordia University System Report, 64.
    • 21 Paula Schlueter Ross, “Concordia, Selma, ‘Moving in Right Direction,’ says Mendedo,” Reporter, March 13, 2013, accessed May 25, 2023.
    • 22 Ross, “Concordia, Selma.”
    •  23 Paula Schlueter Ross, “Board Adopts Resolution ‘to Support Concordia College Alabama,’” Reporter, March 3, 2016, accessed May 25, 2023.
    • 24 2019 Res. 7-03 Governance Proposal Conference Draft: “To Revise Bylaws to Revisit and Renew the Relationship of Colleges and Universities with the Synod,” St. Paul Conference, March 22, 2023. “
    • 25 “The Looming Higher Ed Enrollment Cliff,” College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, Fall 2019, accessed May 30, 2023.
    • 26 “Why Some Small Conservative Christian Colleges See Growth Where Other Schools See Declines,” Detroit Free Press, Oct. 8, 2021, accessed May 25, 2023.


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