[This month we will be discussing the future of theological education on our blog. To read the introductory post go here: This Month’s Conversation: the future of theological education.]
On Tuesday I asked about how we should respond to the question, “Should I go to seminary?” For many the answer is “yes” if you have the finances and you sense a “calling” of some sort. For others it may be “no” or “yes with caution” because of things like the fear of misguided indoctrination or the impact of one’s studies on their familial and social life, but it seems that the most prominent concern has to do with money.
I’ve seen the inside of seminary operations to some extent and I remain baffled by the problem: somehow seminary costs continue to rise, yet many schools don’t pay their faculty better or hire better faculty, or upgrade their facilities and libraries, or do much of anything that shows that the money is going to good use, yet there is usually no reason to suspect unethical mismanagement of the funds. I don’t know where the money goes—health care? the cost of accreditation? marketing?—but it goes somewhere. The problem is that the cost of seminary education is experiencing inflation that far surpasses that of the local economy and often even that of other institutions of higher learning (at least, without a in-depth study to cite, this has been my observation when working in higher ed), but the people graduating from seminary will continually be on the low end of the wages spectrum.
Now, I know, ideally, we say that a calling is a calling, or service to the Church is service to the Church, so money shouldn’t be a thing, but that may be overly optimistic. Many people may not find a job right out of seminary, but the debt is there. Others may find a job, but it is low paying, and while Pastor Sue may be able to embrace poverty her spouse and children may not. Similarly, because Pastor Sue owes thirty grand in education debt that she accumulated in order to be a minister she is shackled when it comes to guiding her Church. She may want to make some changes, be a prophetic voice, shake the dust off of a complacent congregation, but she needs her job, so she plays the role while her heart sinks as she realizes that seminary didn’t prepare her for this sort of survival.
Now, some schools affiliated with denominations do assist financially, but this can lead to learning being stymied a bit. If you know you have to check off a list of affirmed beliefs to continue to receive financial assistance you may find that you ignore where your studies take you because you know if you go down that path you’ll no longer affirm all that [insert denomination/organization here] demands that you affirm to receive support. I don’t blame these denominations or organizations for requiring people to affirm their vision and values to receive their support, but it can be a drag on one’s learning experience that results in hypocrisy-for-hire.
We know the problem, but what are the solutions? I’d like to hear your thoughts on some of the following:
– How can seminaries and divinity schools better use their finances, especially those who are tuition driven without strong endowments?
– Should students attend seminaries and divinity schools that are tuition driven or is this a warning sign?
– Should more smaller seminaries and divinity schools consider mergers to pull together their resources?
– How can schools make their budget without driving up the cost of a credit hour?
– How can schools access more scholarship money?
– How can we convince wealthy Christians to invest more in our seminary and divinity school students so that those Christians with excess wealth can help future clergy and other Church leaders avoid disabling debt?