For good reason, I adjusted the naming scheme for this post in an effort to get your attention. Today’s post is our last look at some next steps for the Kairos Project based on what we have learned since its implementation in fall 2014. Through the pricing model for the Kairos Project, Sioux Falls Seminary believes it has created a way to finally lower student debt. I will explain more later, but new student debt has decreased by 80% as we have implemented the Kairos Project.
Over the course of the previous three years, Sioux Falls Seminary participated in a collaborative research project on operational and educational models in theological education. The goal was to find some of the underlying causes for why students were graduating from seminary with a crushing amount of educational debt. We published our findings in a series of articles that we posted on this website. You can find the first one here and a summary here.
One of the key findings was that even though there is no correlation between student debt and price of tuition, seminaries could most likely impact student debt by finding ways to lower and/or recalculate the Cost of Attendance. Put simply, because tuition across seminaries had risen so quickly and so high, the cumulative cost to attend seminary (which is what the government uses to calculate how much a student can borrow) enabled students to borrow up to the maximum allowed by the government. In some cases, we found that due to tuition and the way living expenses are calculated, students could borrow over $20,000 per year even if they were receiving a 100% tuition scholarship! To fix this, Sioux Falls Seminary felt it needed to find a way to lower the cumulative cost of attendance while also better advising students.
One way to have an immediate impact on that number is to lower tuition and adjust our Cost of Attendance Calculations. Tuition was the first step that we took with the Kairos Project. Tuition for students in the Kairos Project is less than 1/3 the average rate for seminaries in North America. When combined with more intentional student advising, we have produced a dramatic decrease in the number of new students who are borrowing money to pay for seminary. We have also seen an even sharper decline in the amount of money being borrowed.
Here are the facts. In fall 2016 at Sioux Falls Seminary, 60% fewer new students borrowed money to pay for seminary. As a group, these new students borrowed over 80% fewer dollars. In fall 2016, only 12.5% of new students at Sioux Falls Seminary borrowed money. While in fall 2014, nearly 53% of the seminary’s new students took out a loan in order to begin their journey of theological education.
It seems that our experiment in pricing and student loans is having its desired impact. The next step is for us to figure out how this model can be expanded to all students. At the heart of the pricing model is a monthly tuition that is affordable for most, if not all, students. Obliviously, a lower price could lead to fewer tuition dollars for the institution. Perhaps surprisingly, that is our plan. We are structuring the organization to account for the fact that tuition may decline even while enrollment increases. Why are we doing this? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Seminaries cannot continue to increase the price of tuition in hopes that higher enrollment and higher tuition will fix the issues facing our institutions. We must first become good stewards of what God has already given us. In doing so, I believe we will continue to lower the seminary’s cost per student to develop servants for participation in the kingdom mission—with cost savings passed on to students. The Kairos Project has enabled Sioux Falls Seminary to begin walking down that path, and it is exciting to see the positive financial impact it is having on students.
Over the past few weeks, we have looked at various aspects of the Kairos Project and what we have learned from its implementation. Perhaps the most interesting development is the impact that the Kairos Project is having on the seminary’s classic tracks within our various degree programs. We will begin to unpack what that might look like after our Advent devotional series concludes.