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Sewanee’s School of Theology to Increase Financial Aid

Sewanee’s School of Theology to Increase Financial Aid

The School of Theology at Sewanee quietly announced yesterday that students in the Master of Divinity program will be able to attend tuition-free, beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

… [A]ll students entering the master of divinity degree program will receive aid to cover the full cost of tuition and fees as well as generous need-based aid to be used toward up to 100% of household living expenses, such as housing, food, utilities, transportation, books and supplies, and health insurance. M.Div. applicants who require financial assistance beyond full tuition and fees are required to demonstrate financial need through the financial aid application process.  Need-based awards are calculated on the basis of income from all sources in relation to expenses.

Sewanee joins Virginia Theological Seminary in making the traditional, 3-year residential program much more affordable for students. VTS began offering similar aid for the current academic year. According to its financial aid website,

In a move that will help ensure the Seminary’s goal of making theological education accessible to all, effective immediately all students applying for financial aid with a combined adjusted gross income (single/family) less than $150,000 annually and/or combined assets less than eight times the respective Cost of Residency category (see below) will receive a package that includes:

• The cost of tuition;
• The cost of housing;
• The cost of a meal plan (for single students – three meals weekday, for all others – the lunch-only plan); and
• A maximum contribution of $4,000 towards healthcare cost for those selecting the VTS sponsored health insurance plan.

Both schools’ commitments to offering their students this level of financial aid will go a long way toward helping the long-standing problem of high debt loads experienced by new seminary graduates. In addition, the Episcopal Church Foundation is partnering with the Lilly Endowment to provide grants to help “designated students” pay down student loan balances.

The grants must be used to make loan payments above and beyond the normal repayment/amortization schedule (i.e., principal) and will be awarded on the basis of financial need and the demonstrated capacity to manage debt, handle day-to-day finances and plan for the future. Grants will range from $3,000-$5,000 and will be paid in one lump sum.

The problem of financing a seminary education is not a new one. A 2011 report from the Pension Fund on the state of the seminaries notes that,
approximately one-third of all seminarians take out student loans to finance their education. Among those who rely on loans to complete their training, over half borrow in excess of $20,000, and some borrow as much as $50,000 or more. Similarly, a majority of students liquidate a portion of their existing assets, most commonly IRAs, pension funds, CDs, and/or a house or other real estate.
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