The Cost of a Seminary Education in 2023
Which schools are the cheapest? Which ones are a bit pricier?
A couple week ago, I wrote this post about the state of seminary education using data from the Association of Theological Schools.
They publish all kinds of useful data on their website about all of the current member seminaries. I see that there are 282 in the most recent dataset that are not just Protestant, by the way. There are also many Roman Catholic seminaries and some Jewish schools, as well.
I wrote in the prior post about the growth and/or decline in Full Time Equivalent enrollment in those seminaries over the last twenty years or so. What was most fascinating to me is that there were actually MORE seminarians in the data in 2022 then there were in 2003. As religion has declined, I would have expected that seminarians would have seen fewer students. But that clearly wasn't the case.
Today, I want to look at this data from another angle - money. The ATS tables included a helpful column that lists the tuition and fees for each school. Here’s how they describe that calculation:
Master of Divinity program full-time tuition charges plus other fees related to enrollment for the 2021-2022 academic year.
I obviously don’t work for ATS, so I don’t know any more specifics than what I shared with you above. But it seems like this is data on how much it cost to go for one year in the MDiv program. This excludes other items like room and board.
Let’s jump right in, shall we? Here are the most expensive seminaries in the data from 2021-2022. I added tuition together with fees to arrive at this number. And, I only wanted to look at schools with an FTE enrollment of 100 or more. The data gets weird when looking at school with only a handful of students.
The University of Notre Dame’s theology department is, by far, the most expensive school in the data. It’s price tag for tuition and fees in 2022 was nearly $59,000. The next closest is Notre Dame seminary, with a cost of $36,000. I’m sure there’s some quirk here that I don’t know about that makes Notre Dame’s theology school so expensive, so let me know in the comments why that is.
But the other thing I wanted to point is that there are a ton of Catholic seminaries on this list. Three of the top four. Four of the top five. Half of the top twenty schools are Roman Catholic. I must admit that I spent a good ten minutes searching the internet for what’s going on here. The conclusion I came to is that hardly any Catholic priests in training pay full freight tuition. I’ve read a bunch of different articles and posts on social media, and the gist seems to be that money shouldn’t pose an obstacle for a young man who really wants to devote himself to the priesthood. If any priest wants to spill his guts about student loans and seminary in the comments, feel free.
But, let me exclude the Roman Catholic seminarians and just look at the most expensive non-Catholic schools. Some really interesting stuff here.
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod takes the first and second position. Annual cost of attendance is nearly $35,000 in Concordia in Missouri or Indiana. There are a bunch of more “academic” seminaries here, too. Chicago, Harvard, Vanderbilt, and Yale are all at the top half of this list. The United Methodists make several appearances here, too. Duke, Claremont, Candler, and Boston are in the top fifteen.
That got me thinking, though. What denominations have the cheapest seminaries? And which ones are the most expensive? That’s pretty easy to figure out in the ATS data. The winner is the United Methodist Church at nearly $23,000 for tuition and fees at one of their seminaries. Roman Catholics are close behind at $21,000.
It’s interesting to note how many denominations in this graph are from the mainline. The aforementioned UMC is #1. But the ELCA is #3 and the United Church of Christ is #4. The Disciples of Christ are #6 and the Episcopalians are right behind at #7. The mainline seminaries are clearly more expensive than their evangelical counterparts.
In comparison, the Baptist seminaries are downright affordable. The average Southern Baptist seminary student is paying just over $8000 per year. The Anglicans are even lower at about $7000. I know that these are all sticker prices, by the way. I’m pretty sure almost no one actually pays the amounts listed on the ATS data website. But they don’t list discount rates anywhere that I can find them. So, this is as best as I can do.
But I also wanted to see how the cost of attendance has changed over time. So I grabbed the oldest data on the ATS site, which was from 2003 and compared the tuition and fees in both years.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Graphs about Religion to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.