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Shifting Tuition: From Market to Mission-Based Pricing, Part 2

All decisions and initiatives at Winebrenner Theological Seminary emerge from our unique mission and strategic priorities. Tuition pricing is no different. In last week’s post I outlined the first two phases of our shift from what I would term market-based tuition to a mission-based approach (you can read that post by clicking here). The following shares the journey that has led us to our current, mission-based pricing structure which is known by various names such as “recurrent payments” or “subscription pricing.”

As one of 67 schools who participated in the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers (ECFFM) initiative funded by the Lilly Foundation and administered by the Association for Theological Schools (ATS), Winebrenner Seminary was invited to the Gathering First Fruits summit in January 2019. This event, combined with the November 2019 ECFFM Forum hosted by ATS, helped clarify and prioritize how we must be intentional about lowering the costs of education for students and lessening their dependence upon student loans to finance their educational debt.

Simultaneous to this growing understanding about educational costs for students, I was also immersed in researching what it means to prioritize platforms over pipelines when it comes to collaborative relationships.

Then, as we all know, the full impact of COVID-19 hit Winebrenner Theological Seminary. As soon as we became aware of the CARES Act Funds provided by the federal government, we prioritized students and determined the best way to deliver a reduced-cost education was through testing the subscription-based pricing model during the 2020-2021 academic year. We had some awareness of a few other seminaries using this pricing model and had previous internal discussions about what it could look like. Little did we know that these previous conversations would allow us to accelerate our plans as soon as the CARES Act funds were received.

The following are three types of conversations I am having on a weekly basis now because of Winebrenner’s dual commitments to low-cost pricing and platform thinking:

  • Local church congregations who are starting leadership institutes or gathering a cohort of students who can support one another through their own educational journey within their local context
  • Other seminaries who are interested in partnering as a way to limit their own costs due to specialized accreditations and overhead
  • Undergraduate schools who are seeking to serve their own students with graduate educational options to enhance their learning experiences

There are two reasons I’ve intentionally linked many previous articles from our InDepth blog for this week’s post.  First, the history and context may be helpful for those who are interested in more background and context for how we’ve arrived at this decision.  Second, a recurrent payment model rests at the convergence of Winebrenner’s unique mission and strategy; while we have benefitted from learning from others who have chosen a similar path, this is a unique component for how we can accomplish our own mission.

Just because a price is mission-based, doesn’t mean there aren’t economic assumptions and implications. The question that quickly emerges when a school determines that a subscription pricing model may work in their context is “how much should we charge for our monthly tuition?”  I’ll walk through that question next week.

– By President Dr. Brent Sleasman

– Image by geralt, Pixabay on AdobeSpark