The Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond announced Tuesday that it would close after nearly three decades.
After June 30, 2019, the seminary will no longer provide accredited theological education degrees to students. The decision of the trustees resulted from a continuing trend of declining enrollment and funding challenges.
Formed in 1991 by the Alliance of Baptists, the school has received support from denominations including the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as well as from foundations, such as the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation, and individuals.
“We are so thankful for these 30 years that BTSR has served,” said BTSR president Linda McKinnish Bridges in a press release announcing the decision. “Our trustees have made a hard decision, and in the coming days we will be lamenting. But we also have cause for gratitude.”
McKinnish Bridges became the third president of BTSR in July 2017, following the tenures of Ron Crawford (2007 – 2017) and Thomas Graves (1991 – 2007).
“We have 750 graduates who are serving as pastors and chaplains, missionaries and nonprofit leaders all around the world,” she said. “We prepared so many women to serve the church when they had very few options.”
In a July 2017 publication, BTSR reported an enrollment of 73 students, with 76 percent pursuing either Master of Divinity or Doctor of Ministry degree. The remaining 24 percent of students were seeking a different master’s degree, a certificate, or were enrolled in a non-degree program.
Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, which partner with BTSR in the Richmond Theological Consortium, will work with BTSR students who wish to attend their schools to help them receive transfer credit for as many courses as possible.
An exclusive interview with McKinnish Bridges was obtained by EthicsDaily.com Executive Director Mitch Randall in Richmond on Monday evening after the trustees met.
The nearly 30-minute interview addressed the factors contributing to the trustees’ decision, as well as explaining plans for the transition and sharing hopes for a future non-accredited education initiative.
“Declining student enrollment certainly was a feature of our decision-making. We had experienced 75 percent decline in the last decade,” she told Randall, noting that declines in enrollment are taking place in theological schools across the nation.
“Because we care for our students … and because we care for our donors it becomes important to make the decision not the night before we see that the finances are such that we cannot pay vendors, but before that happens, so that we can make sure that our students have good places to continue their education and that we can help our faculty and staff to continue their professional development,” McKinnish Bridges explained.
BTSR staff will provide assistance to students as they consider where to continue their theological training, while the trustees and administration will seek to help faculty as they explore other employment opportunities.
The seminary has faced financial challenges before, with a reduction in full-time staff taking place in 2008. Three years later, the seminary announced a plan seeking to secure the institutions’ future and financial stability, which included selling campus buildings and growing the endowment.
Despite reducing the institution’s overall debt, financial challenges have continued, leading trustees to make the decision to conclude BTSR’s accredited degree programs following the spring 2019 semester.
“Efforts to increase giving and enrollments … have not yielded the funds and students that were needed to enable BTSR to continue operating as a freestanding seminary,” a FAQ, released by BTSR on Tuesday, stated. “BTSR simply does not have sufficient resources to continue to operate as an independent, free-standing school.”
A Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation will be established “as a resource and convening center to help students, churches and community leaders work toward racial justice and healing,” the press release stated.
While plans are still tentative, it will likely provide non-degree educational opportunities such as certificate programs, conferences and seminars, taught by short-term, contract staff.