Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tuition Waiver Program: Boon (and Bane?)

One of the unique opportunities offered by Greenville Seminary is our tuition-waiver program. The program was established by the Board of Trustees many years ago to address the financial burden which a graduate-level education poses for many men called to the ministry.

This virtual scholarship program has been a blessing for many students who otherwise could not afford to obtain a theological education. But a recent upsurge in the number of tuition-waiver students is placing a financial burden on the seminary's bottom line. With the Fall 2014 semester, 30 students are attending under the tuition-waiver program. That's about 40 per cent of our current enrollment.

As our Academic Catalog and web site explain, "At Greenville Seminary, it has always been our belief that students called by God to minister in His vineyard should not have to enter that calling with a mountain of debt created in the pursuit of their preparatory studies."

That philosophy has resulted in two long-standing policies: 1) tuition rates that are considerably lower than those at comparable seminaries, and 2) the special tuition-waiver program.

“God established a Biblical pattern for the support of those who minister in His name. We see that principle demonstrated in the pattern of support for the Levites by the Israelites. This principle encourages the Seminary to ask that the churches and/or presbyteries that endorse men for the Gospel ministry support their candidates financially. In the light of this biblical principle and in order to foster a closer working relationship among the students, the sending bodies, and the Seminary, the Board of Trustees has determined that a student under care of a presbytery or session of the PCA, OPC, or any other approved denomination may have a full tuition waiver…,” the policy states.

Under the tuition-waiver program, tuition is waived for students whose sending churches or church bodies agree to support the seminary at full tuition level or at certain specified levels based on membership rolls — for example, $15 per year per communicant member ($750/year minimum) for a sending church; and $1.50 per communicant member ($1,500/year minimum) for a sending presbytery. Full tuition costs, however, are more than $5,000 per year.

The amount provided by the sending church or presbytery usually does not rise to the level of full tuition, especially if the church or presbytery membership rolls are small and the sending body pays the minimum requirement. If a church pays only part of that requirement, the student is expected to make up the difference. But in most cases, even the combined church and student contributions do not reach full tuition levels.

When the number of tuition-waiver students was small, the seminary could usually absorb the loss through general fund donations from individuals or other churches. Now, however, the number has grown so large that the loss of tuition income is substantial, while donations have not grown proportionately.

We therefore are reviewing the required church support levels, and in the meantime, we must make this special appeal to our faithful supporters to consider helping us bridge the chasm which the waiver program is now causing.

Even if all students paid full tuition, tuition would come nowhere near meeting our financial needs. Last fiscal year, tuition provided $149,579 (short of the budgeted $169,998). The cost of operating the seminary during FY 2013-14 was $1.1 million. Non-earmarked general fund donations of $759,754 provided the bulk of the difference. Thus it can be seen that contributions by God's people covered more than 69 per cent of our operating income, a remarkable fact for such a small institution!

One other feature of the program which helps us reduce costs is a work/study component, whereby students enrolled under this program are required to contribute a certain number of hours to supplement the seminary's staffing needs. Students have been gracious in providing these hours, understanding the concept that benefits should be earned to the extent possible. They understand this is not a welfare program.

Will you search your heart and seek the Lord's guidance to determine whether you can be a part of this unique form of financial aid to our scholars? May God bless your generosity.