Trends in Seminary Education

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Like all higher education, the landscape of seminary education is shifting with times and technology. Here are some trends that have emerged over the last decade or so.

From Entry Requirement to Professional Development

Once, a seminary degree was seen as an entry requirement for ministry positions (and in some churches and denominations, still is). Increasingly, however, seminary students are pursuing their degrees like an executive MBA, while serving in a ministry position.  Seminary is a step in professional development, rather than an entry requirement.

Alternate delivery systems—non-residential and online programs—are facilitating this shift, as students can now study at their pace from their location. It is a great advantage for them, but is negatively impacting seminaries, who are finding that while their student enrollment count is increasing, the number of hours each student takes—and thus the school’s income—is decreasing.

From Full-time to Part-time

With the rise in flexible delivery systems, along with the increasing number of older students (see below), more students are electing to pursue their degrees part-time, which allows them to devote the bulk of their time to career and ministry.

From M.Div to M.A.

Enrollment in M.Div programs is decreasing, gradually but steadily. Part of the reason for this is the length and the expense of the degree is a barrier to students in their 20s who do not have the same financial prospects as previous generations: already burdened with student loan from their undergraduate program, they are sensibly trying to avoid further debt before they enter ministry, one of the lowest-paying professions on offer.

Instead, students are opting for a professional M.A. (graduations up 15%) or an academic M.A (up 7%), which can be earned more quickly and less expensively. In the past, shorter degrees were available in church music or religious education, but today are offered with a much wider range of concentrations, from apologetics to church planting to leadership.

This trend also reflects the growing influence of evangelical churches that do not require an M.Div as a prerequisite to ordination.

More students in 30s and 50s, More Minorities

While students in their 20s remain the largest slice of the seminary student body, enrollment by students in their 50s (up 18%) and 30s (up 5%) have increased dramatically.

Also higher were enrollments by minority students (up 11% from 2009) and internationals (up 5%).

For more, see this report, this report, and this interview.

Do you see these trends reflected at your seminary?


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