It looks now like a threatened major cut in provincial government funding for the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a false alarm. The potential cut (Changing Scenes, Spring 2001) has turned into a small reduction of $60,000 in AST’s annual grant of $760,000. (All figures throughout this article are in Canadian dollars. Current exchange rate is $1.52 per U.S. dollar.) The school’s total budget is $2.2 million.
AST president William Close said the ecumenical school is in the process of concluding a complex agreement for affiliation with nearby St. Mary’s University in Halifax, a condition set by the government for continued funding. Part of the scenic AST campus will be sold to help kick-start a capital campaign to address deferred maintenance on Pine Hill Divinity Hall, the school’s main building, which dates back to 1898.
“My early suspicion that we were targeted because [the province] wanted to get out of funding theological education for theoretical or ideological reasons appears groundless,” said Close. He added the Nova Scotia government has been “transparent and supportive,” keeping their part of the deal and recognizing AST’s “vulnerability” as a small stand-alone theological college without a significant endowment.
The AST funding issue prompted an In Trust survey of Canadian theological colleges across the country to find out how many have provincial government funding, and whether government support is under review. IT received twenty replies out of forty-five surveys sent out. Half the responses were from schools receiving government support, half from schools receiving no support.
There is no single policy regarding government support for theological education. In Canada, education, including post-secondary education, is a provincial responsibility, and each province has a different policy. In Canada almost all universities are publicly funded. The few private universities and theological colleges are supported through tuition fees, donations, and endowments.
Theological education historically has had government funding in most provinces where the theological college is affiliated with a university, either as a faculty within a college or as an independent but related institution. Because the master of divinity program is regarded as a first professional degree, rather than a graduate degree, it has been funded on the same level as an undergraduate arts program in terms of student grants.
Funding levels as a percentage of total budget vary widely, according to the In Trust survey. In British Columbia, the University of British Columbia and Regent College both report provincial support makes up about 5 percent of their operating budget. In Alberta, the government withdrew from what limited funding of theological education it was providing about 10 years ago. St. Stephen’s College, a United Church of Canada school now linked with St. Andrew’s, Saskatoon, lost its funding at that time. There are a number of private theological colleges in Alberta, but none receives funding. Nor in many cases is funding wanted.
Richard Blackaby, president of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, Cochrane, Alberta, said his school decided from the outset it had no intention of seeking government funding even if it was available. “Philosophically the board did not want to place itself in a position where secular governing authorities could dictate much of what the school did.”
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, provincial funding provides from 12 percent to 25 percent of operating budgets, depending on the institution. David Neelands, director of the Toronto School of Theology, explained that provincial funding is based on a basic income unit, which was reduced by the provincial government three years ago in across-the-board cuts to post-secondary education.
Because of those cuts, tuition at TST and other Ontario schools has risen, but it still remains about the same level as undergraduate arts and science—about $5,000, including incidental fees. TST and its seven member institutions received a total of $2.1 million in 2000-2001 under the provincial funding formula.
At nearby Tyndale College & Seminary, a large private evangelical theological school, there is no government support. President Brian Stiller said neither Tyndale, nor its predecessor school, Ontario Bible College, has received any government funding. No possibility of affiliation with a university is being discussed.
Stiller noted that while the Ontario government recently announced tuition tax credits to support private primary and secondary schools, a recent initiative to set standards for private universities to receive degree-granting status specifically excluded provision for public funding of private institutions.
At St. Peter’s College, a Roman Catholic school affiliated with the University of Western Ontario, provincial grants amounted to $285,000 in 2000, a decrease caused in part due to enrollment declines. The grant covers 13 percent of operating costs. Although business manager Frank Vita hadn’t heard of any changes, but he wondered if grants might eventually be replaced with de-regulated tuition fees, as is currently the case for professional degrees in medicine, dentistry, and law. (The provincial government currently regulates tuition fees, setting the rates government sponsored schools can charge.) “Grants for theological education could be pulled because they affect so few individuals (students and institutions),” he said, “but there would certainly be an outcry in the pews!”
For some theology programs the financial picture is even muddier because they are just one faculty in a larger college, and it’s harder to make comparisons because of joint classroom space, offices, administrative, and other expenses. At Trinity College, Toronto, the larger college is now struggling with the issue of the future of its divinity faculty. Dean Don Wiebe resigned his post May 31, telling the Trinity College provost Thomas Delworth that it is apparent he “doesn’t share the same vision for the faculty.” Wiebe told an alumni gathering in June that Delworth and other college officials had frustrated the divinity faculty in its efforts to co-operate with the arts faculty in bolstering teaching programs. A plan just stalled would have seen $5 million from Trinity’s unrestricted endowment used as a matching grant for an endowment funding campaign for arts-divinity faculty positions.
In the meantime Trinity has seen its provincial grants shrink to just above the $200,000 mark annually, just less than a quarter of its expenses.
In Saskatchewan, the three schools that are part of the Saskatoon Theological Union (St. Andrew’s, Emmanuel and St. Chad, and Lutheran Theological Seminary) have long been funded in affiliation with the University of Saskatoon. There is a separate funding formula for theological education. (Government grants are handed out to institutions based on the number of students and have a separate per-student funding formula for different courses of study.) Charlotte Caron, academic dean at St. Andrew’s reported an annual grant of $65,960, representing about five percent of the school’s budget. She said continued tuition increases are likely because all three schools have tied their tuition to University of Saskatoon rates, which went up 14 percent this year.
But while there is some fear of cutbacks among schools that are being funded, the issue doesn’t appear high on government agendas. In fact, a call to the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training in Toronto found the public affairs department unaware of funding issues involving theological education. In Trust was referred back to TST and the University of Toronto for any information because, according to communications officer Don Ross, “We don’t fund theological colleges. That’s all done through the universities.”