A goal as large as it is important
It’s a goal as large as it is important: full tuition scholarships for all LTSP students.
We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from all quarters of the church to this initiative thus far, as people recognize the need to provide much more support to our students. Along with the positive comments, I have also heard several questions that I will try to address here.
Some folks, for instance, have asked me “why” we are doing this. The simple answer is because too many students are bringing large amounts of undergraduate loans and cannot afford to add significantly to their debt for seminary. When they do, it makes it difficult for them to serve where the church needs them.
After providing that answer, I ask a question in return: What is the total cost of attendance for graduates from West Point or the Naval Academy? The answer, of course, is nothing, because the graduates of those schools will pay back their education through at least five years of service to their country. Similarly, our students will also repay the gift of their education through a lifetime of service to the church. The goal is to create a more cooperative approach to theological education where students don’t simply pay for their degrees but instead receive their training as a gift of the church they will be serving. And congregations don’t merely sponsor “their” student but are investing in the future leadership of the whole church.
Second, I am often asked for more detail about exactly “what” we are doing. In short, and along with our partners at LTSG, we have decided to make it possible for all students to come through seminary tuition free. We’re approaching this in two ways. First, all ELCA students who are studying full-time and living in-residence and have been entranced by their Synod for rostered ministry are eligible for full tuition scholarships. Second, all part-time, commuting, and distance ELCA students and all students from other traditions will be eligible for scholarships from LTSP that will match support from sponsoring congregations and church bodies to 100 percent. Typically, LTSP has offered part-time students 25 percent aid. We will guarantee that level of aid and be willing to double it to match the gifts of sponsoring congregations and church bodies, allowing all students to come through LTSP tuition free.
The third question I am asked is “how” we can do this. We can make this bold and significant move because of several factors:
The tremendous generosity of the whole church in sponsoring students through scholarship programs such as the ELCA Fund for Leaders and various Synodical scholarships like the Huneke Fund for Leaders of the Metropolitan New York Synod. These funds are all rooted in the vision and generosity of ELCA members committed to developing the future leaders of the church.
The tremendous generosity of LTSP supporters. After several years of downward trends, the Leadership Fund of LTSP that offers scholarships to students has moved slightly upwards this year. In addition, one family, inspired by our move to join our strengths to LTSG and wanting to encourage others to give generously, has recently made a gift of $200,000 and offered a 2:1 match up to $100,000 to increase the Leadership Fund by $300,000 this year.
We are making this level of aid the “fixed commitment” of the new venture in theological education we are sponsoring with LTSG. Currently, nearly 90 percent of each year’s budget is committed to the fixed costs of personnel and facilities. The result is that financial aid comes from what is left over and, year after year, we give more than we can afford and less than students need. In the budget for the reconfigured school, this level of aid is the fixed commitment and we will build a staff and facility that we can afford once we have put students first.
Even with these commitments, we will only be able to sustain this level of aid if we have the support of our constituents and the whole church. Your gifts to LTSP, to the ELCA Fund for Leaders, to Synodical scholarships all help to make this a reality. We are in every way possible partners in this venture to educate and form the church’s next generation of leaders in a way that makes it possible for them to serve the church wherever the church needs them.
Without a doubt, this is a bold goal, one as large as it is important. As people who worship the God who created light from darkness and raised Jesus from the dead, I think this is just the kind of goal we should have before us.
Yours in Christ,