From category archives: In Trust Blog


College-age population expected to decline dramatically

The number of college-age young people is predicted to fall by more than 15 percent within the next decade. The potential effects on theological education are obvious — and daunting.

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Tips for ensuring the show goes on, despite a smaller cast of characters

The North American nonprofit sector is no stranger to getting by on less. But these days less is edging toward subsistence, with budgets and personnel close to the breaking point. What’s a leadership team to do when the show must go on but with a smaller cast of characters to cover all the roles? Create a plan.

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Financial concerns? Share them.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
 recently published a provocative post
about financial transparency on its Vitae blog. Allison M. Vaillancourt, an administrator at the University of Arizona, writes that frank discussion of financial issues with faculty and staff can benefit university employees. She argues that rather than avoiding the conversation or trying to protect people from a scary reality, it's best to give them the details they need to make changes.

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The closing of Sweet Briar: What are the implications for theological schools?

Some sad news in higher education this week: Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts college in Virginia, announced that it was closing at the end of this semester because of "insurmountable financial challenges."

Sweet Briar has an endowment of more than $80 million, but its board decided to close the school nonetheless.

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Seeking a blessed union: Is a merger on your horizon?

Union Street, Traverse City

Seminaries share little with the ambitions of corporate America, but it’s interesting to compare the matter-of-fact approach to mergers held up by the business world to the apprehension that talk of a merger can bring to a seminary boardroom.

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Maintain the mission while firing the faculty?

According to Inside Higher Ed,
Iowa Wesleyan College is cutting 22 of its 52 faculty positions and 16 of its 31 academic programs, saving the school $3 million per year out of its $20 million budget. After the cuts, there will be two faculty members in the English department, and none in math. Naturally, people are distraught, but I’m not inclined to criticize the radical pruning. This is a college with . . .


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Requiem for the bookstore

This month, the Cokesbury bookstore at Lancaster Theological Seminary
 closed its doors for good. In fact, this wasn't the seminary's decision -- all the Cokesbury stores are closing, if they haven't already done so. As someone who deeply appreciates what goes into building and managing a finely curated collection of books -- a difficult task when the best of your collection regularly walks out the door, never to be seen until you re-order -- hearing that another store has closed grieves me.

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More discussion of student debt

Back in 2005, the Auburn Institute published a timely report, “The Gathering Storm: The Educational Debt of Theological Students.” The warning was clear: As the cost of education increases, more students come to graduate school with undergraduate debt, and they add to that burden throughout their time at seminary, graduating with more debt than someone with a clergy salary can afford. Simple math.

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Beyond Borders (part 2): Box store vs. Bookseller

Read Part 1 of this post. The bankrupt Borders stores tried to be a one-stop shop for books, magazines, music, movies, and related paraphernalia -- remember the "Itty-Bitty Book Light"? But in an increasingly digital age, consumers can compare prices instantly on their smart phones and select the brightness of their books' pages on their Kindle or iPad. Unfortunately, many theological schools assume that they're falling short of their mission if they don't try to provide a Borders-like experience: a comprehensive approach to theological and ministerial education that provides everything to everyone. But North American theological education diverges from the Borders example in at least one significant way: its mission is to serve -- not profit from -- church and society. Theological schools exist not for their own sake but rather in service to a larger mission. Our schools are all playing on the same team, striving toward a broad and common goal of educating effective ministers, lay leaders, counselo ...

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Beyond Borders (part 1): Lessons from a megachain's demise

The closing of Borders bookstores has drawn responses from a variety of sectors. One seminary professor even wrote a theological reflection on the news. Without a doubt, Borders was an American fixture for nearly two decades, and its downfall has important lessons for organizations in the midst of large-scale shifts in their markets. A few observations are noteworthy: One news report suggests that the fall of Borders is an opportunity for small independent stores, which can focus on special niches or cater to particular communities. The lesson is simple: a one-size-fits-all approach may, in fact, serve no organization very well. One college dean suggests Borders failed because it was not distinctive enough and did not align its core competencies to a changing marketplace. He fears many middle-of-the-road private colleges are headed down this same path. Another observer offers three concise lessons: (1) The middle is a bad place to be. (2) Technology is not always the answer. (3) Disruptio ...

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Keeping your school in alignment

Over at the Call and Response Blog, a young mainline pastor is getting honest about the professional world into which she recently graduated. In a post called "Younger Clergy and the New Economic Normal," Amy Thompson Sevimli outlines the economic and demographic realities facing the mainline church, telling of a generation of older ministers who are hanging on to fewer and fewer full-time pastorates, while seminaries produce ever more young people expecting to enter the pulpit with the pay and pension of their predecessors. "[W]hat should younger clergy do, since most of us have already paid for at least eight years of schooling and don't have a second set of skills to fall back on?" she asks. "The model for ministry which we have long assumed is no longer the model of the future." Or, as a headline for another article says, "Too Many Pastors, Not Enough Work." The changing nature of the pastorate is evident everywhere we look, and not only in mainline denominations. For many small congregations (wheth ...

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Is the bubble about to burst? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this post.

Is theological education in the bubble, too?

Few doubt that higher education is on the verge -- or in the midst -- of a sector-wide shift. Some are likening the current situation to the housing and lending bubbles that recently "burst" (as we discussed in Part 1). But does the threat extend to theological education, with its unique purposes, constituencies, and outcomes?

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Is the bubble about to burst? (Part 1)

We've heard a lot in recent years about bursting bubbles in the financial and housing sectors. Now the analogy is creeping into higher education. In a stark opinion piece published earlier this month in the Washington Examiner, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds declares that the higher education bubble is about to burst. "The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive," he explains, "but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy." Remember, he's talking about college degrees, not houses. So if there's an educational bubble, what's inflating it? The primary cause: skyrocketing costs. Inside Higher Ed reports that private colleges are increasing tuition this fall by an average 4.5 percent, which is extremely modest compared to a 10-year prerecession average of 6 percent per year. (To be fair, student aid is also increasing in these institutions, which isn't always the case in other sectors of higher ...

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Is your seminary stressed?

On airport bookshelves across North America, the "turnaround" is quickly becoming the next hot topic in popular business and management reading. A turnaround is what happens when, thanks to insightful leadership and organizational acumen, an organization's downward trajectory is reversed -- in spite of all countervailing odds.  A recent addition to the genre is titled Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence, and it's written for educational leaders by educational leaders. Overall, the book is a collection of essays that provide helpful guidance for those in the midst of organizational turmoil and/or turnaround. The first chapter is particularly insightful. In "Defining Stressed Institutions and Leading Them Effectively," the authors briefly describe the major contributing factors in the current climate of institutional stability (such as "churning presidents," the changing demands of students, and the commodification of higher education in general). The chapter then offer ...

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