Through the second round of its Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers, the Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis has announced grants totaling more than $12.3 million to fifty-one theological schools in the United States.
Established in 2012, the initiative encourages theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices so as to improve the economic well-being of future ministerial leaders. Recent research shows that student debt in excess of $30,000 is fairly common for seminary graduates, and that some seminary students are graduating with loan debt of more than $100,000. The financial pressures caused by such high levels of debt severely limit the ability of seminary graduates to pursue a ministerial vocation after school and undermine the effectiveness of many pastoral leaders.
Theological schools receiving grants will use their awards — averaging approximately $250,000 each — to pursue a range of activities, including examining new models for financing theological education, exploring ways to reduce the number of hours it takes to complete a degree program, advising students on how to lower the amount of money they borrow, broadening sources of scholarships and financial aid, and creating distance-learning programs. In addition, many schools will use a portion of their awards to create programs that improve students' financial literacy and ability to manage congregational funds.
To coordinate the efforts of the schools participating in the initiative, the endowment also awarded a grant to Association of Theological Schools, which will monitor the progress of each program, convene project leaders and stakeholders to share insights, and organize working groups to explore specific challenges faced by schools in implementing their programs.
"Theological schools are uniquely positioned to address the educational debt issue and to lead broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders," said Lilly Endowment vice president for religion Christopher L. Coble. "Our hope is that these grants will help them build relationships with church organizations and others to lessen the debt burden and increase support for future ministers."
For a complete list of grant recipients, visit the Lilly Endowment's Web site.