Results of the efforts to rebuild enrollment and finances at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary remain largely unknown to the public, but the latest report filed with the Southern Baptist Convention shows just how low enrollment dipped in the 2021-2022 academic year.
According to data supplied for the 2023 SBC Book of Reports — published this week — Southwestern’s Full-Time Equivalent (known as FTE) enrollment dipped to 793 in the 2021-2022 academic year. That’s 333 fewer FTE students (30%) than in the two years prior, which also were part of a longterm decline.
As previously reported by BNG, Southwestern’s enrollment decline picked up steam during the administration of Paige Patterson, who was president there from 2003 to 2018. The 2021-2022 FTE of 793 compares to 2,381 in the 2001-2002 academic year — a 67% drop in 20 years.
Once billed as “the world’s largest theological seminary,” Southwestern today ranks as only the fourth largest of the SBC seminaries.
While that decline began under Patterson’s leadership, it did not abate under the brief tenure of his successor, Adam Greenway, who resigned abruptly in September 2022 after three years at the helm. That and serious financial problems were among the factors that reportedly led trustees to lose confidence in Greenway’s leadership.
Trustees reportedly were not given any written documentation, and no details of the investigation were released publicly.
Trustees authorized an investigation into those circumstances and received an oral report on the findings at their April meeting. However, trustees reportedly were not given any written documentation, and no details of the investigation were released publicly.
Ever since Greenway’s departure, Southwestern’s new leadership has offered no public accounting of the reported deficit or of this year’s enrollment, speaking only in vague terms about rebounding and rebuilding. The seminary is required to file public enrollment and financial reports twice a year through its accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools, and the SBC Book of Reports.
Despite a 2022 deficit widely said to be at least $6 million or more, seminary leadership has given no accounting of that financial distress.
Comparative data in this year’s SBC Book of Reports shows two areas in which Southwestern stands out from the other SBC seminaries in finances. First, while the other five schools reported modest or negative earnings from endowment, Southwestern reported $7,018,947 in endowment income. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — now the largest of the SBC schools — by comparison reported a loss of $918,684 in endowment income for the year.
More importantly, the latest data show it costs more to educate a student at Southwestern than at any of the other five SBC seminaries.
It costs more to educate a student at Southwestern than at any of the other five SBC seminaries.
The average annual cost per SBC-affiliated student at Southwestern is $21,420, which is 10% higher than the next most-expensive school (Gateway Seminary) and 44% higher than the least-expensive school (New Orleans Seminary).
That cost inefficiency at Southwestern is driven, in part, by faculty and facilities costs that outstrip the income produced by today’s lower enrollment. Southwestern is like a declining church that must maintain and staff a building too large for present-day attendance.
Newly named Chancellor O.S. Hawkins continues to spread sunshine everywhere he speaks and via his active Twitter account with posts such as this: “Every single day we are sensing a new wave of optimism and support for this school which has meant so much to so many. Join us on the journey back to financial health and expanded ministry opportunities.”
The SBC Book of Reports requires institutions to report income but not expenses. For the latest year on record, which appears to be 2022-23 but is not explicitly labeled as such in the report, Southwestern reports total income of $40,304,642.
That’s down from $42,932,938 reported as total income in the 2020 Book of Reports.
Greenway has been among those urging seminary leadership to make public the investigation of finances and enrollment during his tenure as president.
At the April trustee meeting, trustee Chairman Danny Roberts said Greenway made some “imprudent” and “unwise” financial decisions, including “some activities contrary to institutional policies.”
Greenway and his defenders have said privately if trustees are going to impugn his record as president, they ought to give supporting evidence. But eight months later, no details have been provided.
What happened at Southwestern and why does it matter? | Analysis by Mark Wingfield