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Operational Models and Educational Debt in ATS Seminaries
Why do we care? What do we know? What can we do?

What Have We Learned?

Over the past 12 weeks, we have looked at operational models and student educational debt at seminaries within the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). The impetus of this conversation was a research project that I co-led alongside Dr. Harriet Rojas of Indiana Wesleyan University.  Sioux Falls Seminary, Northern Seminary, and Indiana Wesleyan University worked together on this project, and we give thanks to God for the great work that was done.

Today’s article is meant to provide a brief summary of what we learned over the past twelve weeks as well as a “one-stop-shop” for links to the various articles.  Feel free to share these articles with others.  As we stated in the beginning, our hope was to start a conversation around these topics.

We began by describing the research project.  Next, we painted a picture of the three-sided challenge facing theological education.  We have a cost, price, and value challenge, and all three must be addressed.  The final introductory article dispelled a myth regarding the correlation of tuition price and student debt.  In short, there is no correlation.

The topic of student educational debt and the operational or educational models that might be enabling the growing levels of debt is one of great importance.  We care about this topic for many reasons.  Data in our first infographic shows that we need to think critically about our operational models because we are utilizing more and more resources to serve a smaller number of students.  That infographic also called attention to the question of how much debt is too much debt.  Our current systems may be enabling students to take out more loans than are necessary.  Also under the category of “why do we care” is the disturbing reality that we have a glaring omission in our curricula.

After making the case for why we care, we moved to a discussion about what we learned from our research.  Our second infographic brought attention to a few things, the first of which was the fact that as the government increased access to credit through student loans, tuition in higher education rose at an alarming rate.  In essence, for every $1 increase in loan availability, tuition rose by 63 cents.  When viewed alongside other data from ATS regarding budgets and resource allocation, it seems we have excelled at inefficiency.  Together, these realties led us to share a theory that we call the Law of Inefficiency.  Our last note regarding what we know was based on change, or the lack thereof.  It may be time for seminaries to refrain from taking the easy way out and begin to rethink innovation, make hard decisions, and create new expectations.

Providing background for why we care about this topic and sharing important information gathered during our research is important.  However, we felt it was important to end by suggesting several practical steps that seminaries could take to address this issue.  We believe the challenges we are facing are multifaceted.  We also believe that they create great opportunities for an exciting future.  To adequately adjust our operational models and thereby have an impact on student educational debt, we believe we must focus on cost reductionrevenue generation, and curriculum development.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.  The future of theological education is bright.  At Sioux Falls Seminary, we are actively creating systems of theological education that are affordable, accessible, and relevant while remaining faithful to the unshakable truth of God’s word and the essence of the formation that must happen through theological education.  Be sure to check back next week as we begin to share a few specifics about our mission and purpose as an institution.  God is doing great things in and through Sioux Falls Seminary!

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