Satellite campuses of theological schools are springing up all over the place as seminary administrators and governing boards struggle to increase their revenues and carry out their missions more effectively. For many schools the trend toward older applicants and applicants with more family and professional responsibilities means the institution must go to the students rather than expect the students to come to it.

But how can a school be confident that a new program at a satellite location is paying its way rather than quietly sucking away the resources of the central operation? As Aquinas Institute of Theology, a small (191 students, with a full-time equivalency of 109) Roman Catholic school in St. Louis, moved to establish satellite master's degree programs in Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs, the school's president, the Reverend Charles Bouchard, O.P., and his staff put a high priority on making sure the satellites contributed to--rather than detracted from--Aquinas's fiscal health.

Aquinas's off-campus Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program is designed to prepare men and women to be lay pastors and administrators of Catholic churches. The Aquinas program began after the school received a call for help from the Diocese of Colorado Springs. A group of Colorado Springs students were half-way through such a master's program offered by St. Thomas Seminary in Denver when the Denver seminary abruptly closed its doors. Would Aquinas be willing to pick up the program and carry the students through to their degrees? Aquinas's leaders looked over the students enrolled, the curriculum they were following, the educational logistics involved, and the finances of the operation, and decided to give it a try.

Aquinas continues to follow the curriculum largely as St. Thomas designed it. Completion of the twenty-course program, which is conducted only on weekends, takes three and a half years. Having seen the first "cohort" of Colorado Springs students through the completion of their work and the awarding of their degrees, Aquinas is now working with a second group there and has started a second program in Oklahoma in collaboration with the Diocese of Oklahoma City.

The academic component of the program is conducted partly with teachers present in the classroom, partly with electronic aids. (The other components, spiritual formation and supervised ministry, are led by directors resident at the satellite sites.) Each two-credit course is offered over three weekends spaced over six weeks. The Pre-Study Session, held on a Saturday, provides a three-and-a-half-hour course overview. Sometimes a faculty member travels to the extension site from St. Louis; sometimes the "teacher" is a videotape and class outline. For the Intensive Weekend Session the faculty member goes to the site and offers an intensive learning experience beginning Friday evening, continuing all day and evening Saturday, and ending with a session on Sunday afternoon, a total of eighteen hours of instruction. The Post-Study Session, on the Saturday three weeks later, is a wrap-up and conclusion at which the faculty member may or may not be present.

A sponsoring diocese is an active partner in both of Aquinas's MAPM program offerings. The benefit of this approach is twofold: the local church (1) assumes responsibility for the formation of its own ministers; and (2) provides an on-site presence for students when classes are not in session. The diocese is responsible for recruitment and initial screening of candidates, spiritual formation, and supervision. Aquinas offers faculty, program development, and academic oversight.

Extension Program Cost
According to Katherine Amos of the Association of Theological Schools factors that ATS takes into account in its accreditation process in determining costs of an extension program are:

  • separately maintained financial ledgers for income and expenditures equipment costs 
  • repair and maintenance of equipment 
  • insurance 
  • equipment use and operation 
  • instruction and support costs 
  • institutional administrative costs  
  • contingency fund 
  • surpluses.

With those considerations in mind, note the financial figures for Aquinas. Table A, at the end of this article, shows Aquinas's projected revenue and expenses for 1999/2000; Table B indicates the same for the partnering dioceses.

At first glance a revenue excess of $24,400 (see Table A) may seem like a lot. But, says Bouchard, Aquinas's president, "It's a pretty slim margin. Technical investment is a big unknown. It could reach $20,000 or higher in the next couple of years." Which means building up some cash reserves is prudent for Aquinas. In addition, Bouchard pointed out, "There are hidden costs we incur." While Aquinas budgets $34,000 for center salaries, this amount is for adjunct faculty hired specifically to teach in the extension program. Regular faculty members also teach for the center, however. No portion of their salaries is charged against the center's budget. Administrative staff of the institute personnel also devote time to the center program without charge to it.

The largest expenses for Aquinas are salaries and technical investment (combined, 73 percent of the total), followed by program development at 9 percent. Critical to Aquinas's success is the contribution the dioceses make to the program. Table B shows that the Oklahoma and Colorado Springs dioceses invest heavily, bearing a significant part of program expenses: the salaries of on-site directors; the cost of classroom facilities and any overnight accommodations for students; travel and hospitality for visiting faculty; and office expenses. At one campus the diocese absorbs all of these costs while the other partially passes them on to the students. Because the dioceses provide classroom space and some technical support, Aquinas's start-up costs (not included in this fiscal year's projections) were relatively low, about $12,000 to $15,000, including an accreditation visit. Aquinas's technological expenditures are low because the school is located on the campus of St. Louis University and can take advantage of the university's network infrastructure and "smart" classrooms.

Because of the contributions the dioceses make, Aquinas is able to charge students only 55 percent of their regular on-campus tuition. With twenty-nine students enrolled in the extension program, Aquinas expects to generate $66,000 in revenue. The other critical revenue stream comes from the support of several foundations. With the combined impact of tuition, grants, and diocesan support, Aquinas is able to fund a dynamic and growing distance-learning program that can serve thirty to forty students a year.

Other similarly sized seminaries with extension programs have also needed to be creative to make financial ends meet. New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, for example, maintains a partnering arrangement with St. John's Theological Seminary near its extension site in Jamaica, Queens, New York. During the fourteen-year program, New Brunswick has paid nothing for classroom and office space, according to President Norman Kansfield, "as long as we guarantee the equivalent of two full-time students in their theology program." Trinity Lutheran Seminary is able to afford its extension center in Atlanta, President Dennis Anderson told In Trust, "by partnering with Lutheran Southern Seminary and sharing the costs of the program with them."

Reaching a critical mass of student enrollment is another key factor determining the financial feasibility of an extension program. Ideally, Aquinas could make it best with twenty students at each of its centers. At least thirty-five students are necessary for New Brunswick.

Maine's Bangor Theological Seminary, one of the pioneers of multiple campuses, recently closed its Hanover, New Hampshire, site, however. Enrollment had declined and expenses exceeded revenue by too great a margin. President Ansley Coe Throckmorton cited Hanover's proximity to seminaries in Boston, 140 miles distant, as the main reason for decreasing enrollment. However, she pointed out, "Our Portland, Maine, location is growing and doing very well, making a good financial contribution for us."

Salaries, technical investment, and program development will likely continue to comprise the lion's share of seminary extension and distance education costs for most institutions. Tuition must be set and supplementary revenue streams (such as grants) may need to be secured to balance expenses and prepare for future needs. Partnering with other institutions is another way to close the gap between revenue and expenses. The journey may not be an easy one, but, as Aquinas's experience shows, fruitful and dynamic extension learning programs are financially feasible even for schools with modest student numbers on the home campus.

Aquinas" Projected Revenue and Expenses for 1999/2000


Tuition (for 29 students)
$ 66,000 (62%)
Grants $ 40,000 (38%)
Total Revenue $106,000
Salaries (includes adjunct faculty paid specifically for center) $ 34,000 (42%)
Technical Investment (hardware and consultation services) $ 25,000 (31%)
Program Development (train on-site staff and develop distance teaching skills and technical expertise) $ 7,450 (9%)
Staff Education (travel for regular and adjunct faculty as well as distance site staff who attend one faculty meeting/year) $ 5,000 (6%)
Other (videoconferencing for Pre- and Post-Study Sessions) $ 4,000 (5%)
Staff Travel (for Director of Distance Learning to sites for supervision, oversight, and program development) $ 3,500 (4%)
Hospitality (for consultants and visiting faculty) $ 1,500 (2%)
Office (postage, phone, copying) $ 1,150 (1%)
Total Expenses $ 81,600
Revenue Less Expenses $ 24,400

Partnering Diocese's Projected Revenue and Expenses for 1999/2000


Cost passed on to students $36,000
Total Revenue $36,000
Salaries (for on-site directors) $35,000(67%)
Facilities (classrooms/overnight student accomm.) $10,000(19%)
Travel (visiting faculty members' travel and hospitality) $ 5,000(10%)
Office (postage, phone, copying) $ 2,000 (4%)
Total Expenses $52,000
Revenue Less Expenses ($16,000)

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