Several years ago, someone contacted me about auditing a class at our seminary site. She was upset when I quoted her the fee to do this even though the fee was only a third of the cost for taking the class for full credit. I was surprised because I knew she did not seem to mind paying a much larger amount for a session ticket for her favorite college basketball team.
Good theological education is not cheap. Of course, you can find unaccredited schools that will give you a degree with a minimum amount of effort or cost, but I don’t consider that theological education, much less good theological education. The result of this relationship is a piece of paper rather than an education.
Most of us, including theological students, don’t realize that the individual student does not carry the full cost of his or her education. Even though students may borrow money to go to seminary, the total cost would be prohibitive if the student had to bear it completely.
Good theological education is made accessible to students due to several factors.
First, individual donors provide assistance. Some of these are graduates of the school, but most often they are people who have been touched by the ministry of a clergy person who attended the school or that of a professor or administrator. These donors may never have taken a theology class, but they appreciate the work of the institution.
Second, committed faculty members often work at a low rate of compensation because they believe in the ministry of the institution. They are committed both to their disciplines and forming a new generation of ordained and lay leaders.
Third, wise administrators make good use of the resources available. They employ good management procedures and accountability structures to get the most out of every dollar available.
Fourth, certain foundations are very interested in specific emphases and provide grants to assist theological institutions to undertake new initiatives. These are usually limited in time and scope, but they help seminaries and divinity schools to move in new and challenging directions such as cross-cultural education or international immersion experiences.
Fifth, institutions increasingly are dependent on quality adjunct faculty who work on a contract basis without benefits in order to hold costs down. Clergy, itinerant educators, and retired professors do this because they believe in and support the mission of the institution.
Good theological education is not cheap but it is worth every penny invested.