By Paula Schlueter Ross
Residential pastoral ministry and deaconess students at the Synod’s two seminaries will pay zero, nada, zilch in tuition — beginning with the 2018–19 academic year. But the students still will be responsible for non-tuition charges such as housing and books.
The paid-tuition policies apply to all such students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and incoming first-year students at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Both seminaries say they’re hopeful they can cover tuition for the students — with the continued partnership of donors — through the completion of their programs. And, they add, there is no restriction on the number of students eligible.
The new tuition plans include grants — which do not have to be repaid — and represent savings of $26,640 per year for M.Div. students and $20,160 for deaconess students at the St. Louis seminary. Those costs are $29,790 and $28,620, respectively, in Fort Wayne.
The seminaries’ new financial-aid policies for the coming school year are intended to ease the financial burden of church workers, many of whom graduate with huge debts, only to answer calls to low-paying positions.
Perhaps best of all, the paid-tuition policies might even encourage some would-be students to enroll.
‘We need to be in partnership’
“Some of our future pastors and deaconesses don’t receive enough financial aid to cover their tuition bill in full,” acknowledged Concordia Seminary President Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer. “This new policy will cover that shortfall, relieving that burden and, I pray, opening the door to more students down the road who can put the worry of how to pay for their seminary education behind them.”
In a Feb. 9 news release, the St. Louis seminary noted that students receive financial assistance from many sources, including scholarships, the Adopt-A-Student program and home congregations and districts.
Under the new policy — approved in September by the school’s Board of Regents — if an M.Div., Residential Alternate Route or deaconess student still has a tuition shortfall after factoring in that outside aid, the seminary will cover the shortfall with a Residential Program Grant.
To maintain their eligibility for the tuition grants throughout all years of their enrollment, students agree to maintain satisfactory academic performance, apply for scholarships and correspond with donors.
The application deadline for the upcoming academic year at the St. Louis seminary is Feb. 28, and the financial-aid deadline is April 1.
“While we celebrate and give thanks to our donors for their generous support, which has been given as a result of the Generations Campaign and makes this new policy possible, it’s important to remember that removing our students’ out-of-pocket tuition expenses can only continue and get even better with the ongoing support of our partners and donors,” Meyer said. “We need to be in partnership in this.”
Other, non-tuition, expenses — including housing, insurance, books, supplies and fees — are the responsibility of students. Those costs typically total between $14,026 and $15,776 per year at Concordia Seminary.
While there are no aid funds specifically earmarked for non-tuition costs, students who receive outside financial assistance in excess of their tuition typically use those extra dollars to pay part — or, in some cases, all — of their living expenses, according to Laura Hemmer, the seminary’s director of Financial Aid.
‘Where there is a plan, God provides’
Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) President Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. noted that “100 percent tuition support” for students has been a goal of the seminary since 2013 when it launched “an exhaustive study of student debt” underwritten by the Lilly Foundation.
“Where there is a plan, God provides,” Rast said. The school’s Board of Regents approved last October full-tuition support for first-year M.Div. and deaconess students, beginning with the 2018-19 academic year.
In its three-step plan for new students, CTSFW first provides aid that covers 77.5 percent of tuition, then each student’s outside aid is applied, and finally, the seminary covers any remaining tuition with a grant — a process it plans to continue each year through completion of those students’ programs.
“Our new tuition policy will cover our students, starting with the next year’s class, 2018–19, and cover them all three years they are on campus,” explained the Rev. Matthew J. Wietfeldt, the seminary’s director of Admission.
Returning students will see their endowment assistance for tuition rise from 70 percent to 77.5 percent for each school year and, along with other aid and scholarships, will see “a greatly reduced amount in tuition,” Wietfeldt said.
Non-tuition costs for residential CTSFW students typically total between $15,396 and $16,191 annually, but those amounts are offset by each student’s home-congregation and Adopt-A-Student support, which does not go toward tuition.
There are no application or financial-aid deadlines for the Fort Wayne seminary, but LCMS districts that provide aid to students do have varying deadlines, so Wietfeldt advises would-be students to “get applications in as soon as possible.”
Rast notes that the paid-tuition plan for incoming students “isn’t free tuition,” but rather, “this is God’s people, the Church, providing for the tuition of our future pastors and deaconesses through their bountiful gifts to CTSFW.
“We are thankful to our faculty and staff who have developed this plan, our Board of Regents for approving it, and the people of God who have been so generous with CTSFW for their financial support in making this a reality.
“Most of all,” Rast added, “we are thankful to our gracious God who provides us with the gifts necessary to provide pastors, deaconesses and lay leaders in His Church. To Him alone be the glory!”
Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of News and Information and managing editor of Reporter with LCMS Communications.
Posted Feb. 26, 2018