Burst bubble

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?

Yes. The canaries in the coal mine have been sickly for quite some time:


  • Seminary headcounts continue to fall, by 1.6 percent in 2009-10.
  • Tuition continues to rise, by an average of around 4 percent across all institutions and degree programs in 2009-10.
  • Student debt is still a major concern.
  • The religious landscape is rapidly changing, as 72% of "millennials" are "more spiritual than religious."


Perhaps more daunting is the impact of direct lending on theological schools. The Department of Education has bought a stake in the success of educational institutions -- seminaries included -- and now views theological schools just like any other institution of higher learning, no different from undergraduate colleges, law or medical schools, or for-profit vocational schools. Expectations of theological schools will be rising, and the DOE is watching.

By most indications, theological education is in the bubble with other institutions of higher education. In his recent address (pdf) at the Biennial Meeting of the The Association of Theological Schools and The Commission on Accrediting in Montreal, executive director Daniel Aleshire hinted that the Commission on Accrediting will almost certainly be allowing more creativity from its schools so they can meet these emerging challenges head on. 

Indeed, there are a lot of unanswered questions right now, and governing boards would be well advised to ask hard questions, bring creative ideas, and bring their expertise to the table. It will be the steady leadership of trustees and senior administrators that guide our schools through these choppy waters of change. 


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