The Ending of Seminaries as We’ve Known Them

Craig Toliver's picture

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary recently announced its intent to sell most, if not all, of its 102-acre campus in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, in order to try to survive financially. This would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago.

I know because 15 years ago I was its president. 

A lot can happen in that length of time. Gordon-Conwell’s enrollment plummeted from 1,230 full-time equivalent students in 2012 to 633 in 2021. When I assumed full fiduciary responsibility as president in 2006, I learned that we needed to raise $1 million before year end to meet the budget. That challenge apparently only grew over time as tax records show that from 2016 to 2019, the school consistently faced a year-end deficit between $600,000 and $2.4 million.

But Gordon-Conwell isn’t alone. Other well-known evangelical seminaries such as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and Fuller Theological Seminary are facing similar challenges. Earlier this year Trinity was forced to slash its budget, eliminating multiple faculty positions. In 2018, Fuller closed three of its satellite campuses along with voting to sell its property in Pasadena, California. Its financial future is again in jeopardy as its planned relocation was recently blocked.

I don’t fault the decisions of any of these institutions. I know only too well what it’s like to be handed a set of financial realities in one hand, and the expectations of students and faculty in the other. And there are many other challenges facing seminaries today