EXCLUSIVE: Three Episcopal seminaries offer new programs to address grim financial realities facing seminarians

The General Theological Seminary (GTS), in New York City, is responding to its students’ increasing financial stress by actively raising more scholarship funds and by developing a Financial Literacy certificate program, which will provide students with skills to manage both their own finances and the finances of their parishes.

Lowrey also indicated that GTS plans to increase its distance-learning program, which will help reduce student debt. While it’s still in the very early planning stages, Lowrey hopes that through this program, students will be able to attend seminary full time for two years and then spend their third year working in a parish, gaining practical experience and attending courses online to complete their degree. Lowrey believes the program could save students up to a third of the costs they are paying today.

“If a student sells his house to come here, that’s when I start to worry,” said the Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), Berkeley, Calif.

Singer said CDSP has noted an increase in commuter students as seminarians look to cut costs, and that the board has recently voted to begin a partnership program with Episcopal bishops across the country. This program will offer a limited number of full-tuition scholarships to qualified students who are nominated by their bishops and who have demonstrated outstanding community leadership. In return, the seminary will be asking the bishops to pledge to hire these graduates whom they nominated for a period of two years after successful completion of their studies at CDSP at the standard clerical pay scale. “It’s expected the new program will be ready for fall 2013,” Singer said.

Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), Cambridge, Mass., recognizing the financially infeasibility for some of its students of leaving their jobs and moving across the country to attend seminary full time for three years, is continuing to enhance its hybrid learning option. This program allows students to attend classes online in the fall and spring, then meet in person for two intensive 10-day terms in January and June. According to the Very Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale, president and dean of EDS, this hybrid option is garnering increasing interest from bishops who realize the need to ease the debt burden on seminarians whose job prospects may be limited in their dioceses.

EDS is also launching a pilot program this fall for seminarians working in select underserved communities in exchange for repayment of their student debt during their service. Ragsdale explained EDS will be choosing the dioceses to work with during the pilot program over the summer. The first sponsored student participants are expected to begin their studies in fall 2012 and complete the Masters of Divinity program in May 2015.

(Veronica Dagher is New York City-based reporter and an Education for Ministry graduate. She is a recipient of a Religion Newswriters Foundation Lilly Scholarship.)


  1. Any program that requires students to travel and attend during the cold winter months in places like Boston, New York, or Chicago is doomed to fail, given transportation problems that inevitably arise in cold weather and the effects of such weather on student health, particularly on those who are from warm climates.

  2. David Kiley says:

    David Justin Lynch- You do realize people live here all winter long and manage to survive until nearly 100 years old?? Your post is pretty funny, hard to take serious.

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