America’s mainline Protestant seminaries are in crisis, but so far they seem to be spending more energy dodging tough choices than preparing for the future. A recent article at Inside Higher Ed describes the enrollment collapse at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Luther is one of the most important Lutheran seminaries in the country, but its status wasn’t enough to insulate it from the forces upending seminaries everywhere. Enrollment fell off sharply, and the institution ”was running multimillion-dollar deficits, spending down its endowment and relying on loans.”
The seminary’s response? It’s making some painful cuts, letting go of some staff and reducing the number of degree programs it offers. Luther isn’t alone; seminaries all over the country are facing tough choices.
In many cases, survival has required selling off property or losing independence. More seminarians enroll later in life than in the past, meaning that seminaries often don’t need buildings filled with dorms and apartments. Others have worked to develop online programs, requiring less of a physical footprint, and selling or leasing their additional facilities.