An Analysis of the Cost of Theological Higher Education

Winebrenner Theological Seminary is launching a new blog series called InDepth that is intended to provide some insight and analysis into where we are, where we are heading, and how we’ll get there.  Although anyone is welcome to read these posts, the entries will be written primarily for our audience of current faculty, staff, administration, Board members, as well as students, alumni, and denominational partners. Therefore, there may be some assumptions made in our entries that will take further clarification for those beyond this list (feel free to email me at brent.sleasman@winebrenner.edu to discuss further).

Most entries will fit within one of the following categories: 

A deeper analysis of… 

The importance of… 

Why does Winebrenner…? 

Without much more extended introduction, let’s jump into an analysis of the cost of theological higher education. 

If we have a moment of full honesty, my experience has taught me that most seminaries don’t know how they’ve arrived at their tuition costs. And, sadly, most students don’t know why they pay the tuition they pay. As we gain clarity of the scope of this problem, we are attempting to build an approach for theological higher education that is transparent and as straight forward as possible.   

Some time ago I sent this to another seminary leader: “We spend way too much time making lists of restrictions to keep people out as opposed to being a genuinely welcoming environment. His response? “Preach on!” Often time these restrictions come in the forms of obstacles we create that make it difficult for our students to enroll in courses. Costly tuition is just one example of such an obstacle. 

I am introducing a metaphor here that will likely be unpacked further in future posts. Over the past few months, I’ve attended several events that have required travel by plane. If you think about everyone on a plane, you’ll realize that even though they are heading to the same destination all passengers are paying different rates. Some airlines are more transparent than others. For those of you who are travelers, you understand how some airlines “nickel and dime” you. There’s a flat fee but you must pay for extra leg room, a carry on, and many other items. We’ll take some time in coming posts to explore how this relates to higher education and the cost of attending seminary. 

At our May 2019 Board of Trustees meeting, we will be evaluating our approach to tuition with the goal of providing a better way to arrive at the cost per credit hour and how we identify and distribute internal grants and financial aid (this is distinct from federal financial aid eligibility). There’s much more that can be written about this topic, so in summary, our Executive Team is committed to deliver education that promotes Winebrenner’s sustainability while at the same time contributing to a culture of discipleship and training in the local Church. All of this intended to lead to education that is cost effective and accessible.   

Winebrenner Theological Seminary exists to equip leaders for service in God’s kingdom. For many, when they read “leaders” they may think of organizational leaders such as a pastor or someone in charge.  But, when I write leader, I am thinking of someone who has influence in their particular environment – for example, a parent influences children. A teacher influences students. A 10th grader influences peers. The parent, teacher, and student are all leaders in their own environments. That is what we mean when we say Winebrenner equips leaders for service in God’s kingdom. 

The primary way that we equip leaders is through our classroom. And, within a classroom, these current and future leaders are students. So, in order to more fully complete our mission, we need to focus on eliminating obstacles that keep current and potential students out of the classroom. Sound fiscal decisions also model patterns of stewardship for future leaders. 

There is more to be said about the cost of theological education. For some, what I’ve written may not be that insightful nor revealing. This is intended as the first step in a much larger conversation.

Dr. Brent Sleasman
President, Winebrenner Theological Seminary