Cotner College History

Historical Briefs

Cotner College (Cotner University)
The College received its first students October 1, 1889, after two years of planning and building by members of the Christian Churches of Nebraska. During its forty-four years of life in Bethany (Lincoln), Nebraska, it provided education for pastors, professors, doctors, dentists, teachers, missionaries and lay persons. The last class of the original Cotner College graduated in 1933.

Cotner’s educational dream was broad and included for varying periods of time Academies (high schools), a medical department, dental department, business and elocution departments, a summer program at Sylvandale at Loveland, Colorado, as well as the liberal arts program.

Though small and struggling through its life, the school provided leadership and influence that was out of proportion to its size. At one time, more than half of the overseas missionaries commissioned by the Christian Church were graduates of Cotner. The medical and dental departments were given over to the University of Nebraska and provided the beginning for its medical and dental colleges.

Cotner School of Religion

The closing of Cotner College in 1933 did not end the dream of Christian higher education among Nebraska Christian Churches. In 1946 the Cotner School of Religion opened on Holdrege Street across from the Agricultural Campus (now known as East Campus) of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Here university students could enroll in bible, religion, and preaching courses for elective credit and return to their farms and rural towns to serve their congregations. In 1954, a building was erected across from the downtown campus and the relationship with the University of Nebraska was formalized making it possible for students to earn a minor in religious studies by taking the courses offered by Cotner. Deans P.R. Stevens and Dr. Raleigh J. Peterson (now Dean Emeritus) played leading roles in the organization of this new form of Cotner College.

Cotner College Chair of Religious Studies

The Cotner dream of excellence in biblical studies is being carried on today as a part of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  In 1975 Cotner’s gift of $250,000 to endow the Cotner College Chair of Religious Studies provided a center around which a Religious Studies Program was organized. Over 30 courses related to religion taught by professors in nine departments made it possible for UNL students to graduate with a minor in Religious Studies. In February 1998, at an event the University titled “Creating Excellence”, Cotner College and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nebraska were recognized and a bronze medallion presented as a “thank you” for the endowment. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nebraska/Cotner College was the only religious entity so recognized.

Cotner College Commission

With the remaining assets of the Cotner School of Religion, the Commission came into being as a distinct and unique part of the ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nebraska. Its charge is to provide personal, spiritual, biblical, theological and professional growth opportunities for Nebraska Disciples clergy and lay leaders. It continues to do so through the programs named herein. At the time the Commission was formed in 1976, Cotner began its relationship with the Nebraska Conference United Church of Christ, having two UCC Program Associates on staff and UCC representation on the Commission. Cotner’s first administrator was the Rev. Eddie Anderson (who also served as the Disciples Associate Regional Minster), followed by the Rev. Carl A. Burkhardt, Jr., the Rev. Daniel J. Davis, Sr., the Rev. N. Dwain Acker, the Revs. Dawn K. and John W. Stemple, and Dr. Kenneth W. Moore. When the Region could no longer fund the Associate Regional Minister position, the position of Program Administrator was developed in 1994 with the Regional Minister designated as Administration.

Cotner College ELM

Laity Enrichment

  • In 1998, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nebraska and the Nebraska Conference United Church of Christ jointly developed the Education for Lay Ministry program (ELM) through the work of Cotner College Educational Ministries, where it continues to be administered.
  • In 2004, the Central and Homestead Presbyteries joined us in the ELM program. ELM provides quality education for persons who seek to prepare for ministry within the congregations of the Disciple, UCC, Presbyterian, and ABC traditions. The program is a three-year course of study that can lead to licensed/certified ministry. Most of the ELM graduates are now serving as pastors of small congregations in Nebraska.  Cotner continues it’s work to develop lay leadership.