Money Problems Prompt Erskine Seminary to Take Steps to Split from College

Erskine College and Theological Seminary Erskine Board of Trustees Chairman Ron Vigus
Erskine College and Theological Seminary
Erskine Board of Trustees Chairman Ron Vigus
While financial woes prompt many seminaries to consolidate, Erskine’s are causing it to take a step away.

At a time when many seminaries are merging with other seminaries or related colleges for financial reasons, Erskine Seminary in South Carolina asked its board if it could be a standalone school.

Currently, the seminary is part of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, the only college affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), a small evangelical denomination with fewer than 300 churches.

The reason for the requested break-up? Money problems.

Unlike Erskine, cash-strapped seminaries tend to go the other way; sharing facilities can be a way for schools to ease tight budgets. More are affiliated with colleges than ever.

Thirty years ago, about 20 percent of the members of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)—the accrediting body for Erskine College and Theological Seminary—were affiliated with larger institutions, Daniel Aleshire, the association’s executive director, told Inside Higher Ed. Now it’s up to 40 percent.

In 2010, Moody Bible Institute merged with Michigan Theological Seminary in order to save money by sharing technology and some operations costs. In 2013, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary merged with both Central Bible College and Evangel University in Missouri. And in April, two Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania announced a plan to close down, join together, and then open again.

The pressure to consolidate comes from rising costs and stagnant financial support, Aleshire said. While public schools can offset that cost with the higher tuition that out-of-state students pay, seminaries look to individual or denominational donors, according to Inside Higher Ed.

This year, ARP gave Erskine $407,000, which was split between the college and seminary. The seminary received tuition from the equivalent of 67 full-time students, fewer than they’d hoped. At last month’s annual denominational meeting, the seminary reported to the denomination an anticipated operating loss of more than $100,000 for the year.

With the pressure of a reaccreditation visit looming, the seminary “must begin to operate in a fiscally sound manner,” Erskine reported.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra