SWBTS “heavier emphasis” on evangelism causes lost FTEs, Cooperative Program declines

Printed in the 2017 SBC Annual is a curious statement from the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The opening paragraph contains the following:

“There is a rumor that we have been losing enrollment. This is not true. We have lost quite a number of Cooperative Program supported students because we have placed a much heavier[1] emphasis on personal evangelism, and that appears not to be popular these days (emphasis added). However, what is more important is that through our Global Theological Innovation program, we now have 137 seminaries and campuses involved in our seminary consortium. Not only are we making more than 100,000 library volumes available to each of these campuses[2] (which they have never had before), but we are also welcoming their students, who will be the future professors at those seminaries. Because they do not count for Cooperative Program funds, and because they are not Southern Baptists, they do not show up on our count of Cooperative Program assistance (emphasis added). However, they are coming in remarkable numbers.[3] The total number of students on the campus includes more than 800 students from around the world. Until such time as our future pastors show an interest in evangelism, we are happy to continue making this contribution even though it costs the seminary more. (emphasis added)

In fact, the ONLY Southern Baptist entity to report a decline in Cooperative Program dollars for the 2015-2016 distribution was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.[4] Here are the numbers from page 126 of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual:

TOTAL Cooperative Program Distribution for 2015-2016
$195,730,508.00 — Growth of 3.47 percent over 2014-15
International Mission Board: $98,722.209.00 — Growth of 3.52 percent
North American Mission Board: $44,606,983.00 — Growth of 3.47 percent
Gateway Seminary: $4,093,679.00 — Growth of 4.79 percent
Midwestern Seminary: $4,851,395.00 — Growth of 3.6 percent
New Orleans Seminary: $7,597,336.00 — Growth of 4.05 percent
Southeastern Seminary: $8,378,979.00 — Growth of 3.78 percent
Southern Seminary: $9,729,985.00 — Growth of 5.72 percent
Historical Library and Archives: $469,753.00 — Growth of 3.47 percent
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: $3,229,553.00 — Growth of 3.47 percent
Executive Committee and SBC Operating: $5,797,882.00 — Growth of 2.63 percent
Southwestern Seminary: $8,252,754.00 — Decline of .53 percent.

The decline in Cooperative Program dollars at Southwestern owes to the decline in the enrollment of Southern Baptist students who qualify for Full Time Equivalent (FTE) status as approved by the Council of Seminary Presidents for the Cooperative Program Seminary Funding Formula. In fact, the reported decline occurred despite evidence that the CP allocation per student at Southwestern is higher than all other SBC seminaries, except Gateway Seminary. See the chart below from page 201 of SBC2017 Annual:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 12.22.24 PM

So here’s the bottom line:

Southwestern Seminary has fewer Southern Baptist seminary students receiving more CP support per capita than four of five other SBC seminaries. Just how bad, then, are the enrollment numbers of CP-supported FTE students at Southwestern Seminary.  Here are the numbers, taken from the past 14 years of reports to the Southern Baptist Convention:

2001-2002: 2381 FTEs
2002-2003: 2202 FTEs
2003-2004: 2020 FTEs (First academic term of present administration)
2004-2005: 2296 FTEs
2005-2006: 2095 FTEs (First year that SBCEC provided seminary comparison analysis)
2006-2007: 2033 FTEs
2007-2008: 2091 FTEs
2008-2009: 1981 FTEs
2009-2010: 1836 FTEs (First year SWBTS suspended faculty retirement benefits)
2010-2011: 1734 FTEs
2011-2012: 1617 FTEs
2012-2013: 1497 FTEs
2013-2014: 1424 FTEs
2014-2015: 1332 FTEs
2015-2016: 1249 FTEs

And here’s a graph of the data:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 4.08.15 PM


[1] The use of the comparative adjective “heavier” is made without context? Heavier than previous Southwestern administrations? Heavier than last year? Heavier than Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY? Just who among SBC seminaries has a “lighter” emphasis on evangelism than SWBTS? Does that institution’s enrollment increase? The logic is confounding, and without context it is meaningless.

[2] The seminary president asserts a number here that is potentially problematic. The average width of a book is roughly six inches; the height is nine inches. Moreover, the average weight of a book is 12 ounces. The math works out as follows: 100,000 volumes multiplied by 137 seminaries would mean SWBTS is preparing to send 13.7 million volumes overseas, or roughly 10.3 million pounds of books. Stacked end to end by width, this many volumes would stretch 15,568 miles. End to end by height would stretch more than 23,000 miles. By volume, a single book is — on average — .06 cubic feet. 13.7 million books would be more than 822,000 cubic feet, or enough to fill more than 600 shipping containers. Of course, the president could have meant — and probably does mean — that the seminary is providing digital copies of books to these institutions. But if so, why not be specific and transparent. Readers and messengers are left with a false impression, perhaps intentionally so.

[3] “Remarkable numbers,” according to the seminary’s recently filed Fall 2017 accreditation data, is about 640 applicants and 500 eventual enrollees. Compare that with Southern Seminary (981 applicants/627 enrollees), Southeastern Seminary (694 applicants, 503 enrollees), Midwestern Seminary (572 applicants, 513 enrollees), New Orleans Seminary (268 applicants, 224 enrollees), and Gateway Seminary (358 applicants, 141 enrollees). According Southwestern’s Fall 2016 ATS report, the seminary had 1,149 applicants and 461 eventual enrollees for an enrollment rate of 40 percent. Information from ATS reports can be found at http://www.sbc.net/cp/ministryreports/.

[4] Most SBC entities receive a straight percentage of CP dollars based on the convention-approved allocation budget. As CP revenues go up, so do the actual dollars to these entities. Seminary funding, however, is tied to a formula approved by the Council of Seminary Presidents and is based on variable Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) that change from year to year. Therefore, it is possible for a seminary with a spike in enrollment to receive a greater year-to-year increase than other SBC entities. Similarly, a seminary in decline will receive less.