Baptist Press so reports: SWBTS cuts staff due to health care, utility costs
After making “low-hanging fruit adjustments” that included reductions in dining services, copy center hours and the fleet of vehicles at the 200-acre campus, Patrick said the administration decided not to fill positions from natural attrition, including student employees who are graduating and staff and faculty set to retire.
In order to continue providing health care benefits to employees and their dependents, a third round of cuts involved laying off 30 fulltime staff “in selected areas where functions can be covered in other ways or by organizational change,” Patrick said.
Noting that implementation of the Affordable Care Act prompted many institutions and companies to discontinue spousal and dependent coverage from employer health insurance plans, Patrick said Southwestern has made the decision to maintain those benefits because the seminary “places a high value on the family” as “a critical institution established by God.”
The 865-member workforce at Southwestern includes 300 fulltime and 565 part-time employees. Classes taught by the four faculty members scheduled to retire will be covered by current professors.
This is no small matter, even though 10% doesn’t sound like a lot. State conventions cut greater proportions a few years ago. Our IMB reduced their personnel by much more than that, although the number IMB cut (as opposed to retirements and resignations) was a much tinier percentage than SWBTS’ 10 percent.
I only know what is publicly reported and don’t question the problems with rising insurance and utility costs but freestanding seminaries are expensive things and we’ve got six of them. They compete against each other for students as well as competing against non-CP supported seminaries such as Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, and Liberty.
The problem at SWBTS might be better judged by the figures below:
2008-2009 Enrollment SBC Funded Full-Time Equivalents: 1,981
2015-2016 Enrollment SBC Funded Full-Time Equivalents: 1,249
A decline in this period of more than one-third. FTEs are the critical figure I am told.
2008-2009 Head Count Enrollment 3,515
2015-2016 Head Count Enrollment 4,276
Total head count enrollment increased by about 21%. As the SWBTS spokesperson said in the BP article, “The head count enrollment at Southwestern continues to be sustained, but students are taking fewer hours…” Fewer hours means less tuition, less CP, I believe.
The number of students in the Master of Divinity program, the gold standard for ministry preparation, dropped by almost half in the period compared above. Whereas MDiv students used to comprise over 60 percent of the FTE student count for Southwestern, in the last year available they accounted for only about one-third.
Someone more knowledgable than I may read financial statements with more acumen, but it looks to me like the last two years show about $26 million used or borrowed from endowment funds to provide positive cash flows.
I readily identify with Paige Patterson when he says, as he was quoted in the BP article above,
In serving 42 years as a president of Southern Baptist schools, Patterson said, “Not a day of it has been free from concerns about funding. The exorbitant cost of health care is the latest dilemma. Consequently, we have to tighten our belt.”
There have been plenty of Mondays that I had to decide which church bills we would pay this week and which would be held until after next Sunday’s offering. My scale was micro. At the seminary scale it is macro and a lot of people depend on sound fiscal management. I trust that SWBTS through these cuts is practicing some pre-emptive austerity to avoid the type of catastrophic situation which IMB handed David Platt.
I periodically run across articles on the unsustainability of the stand-alone seminary system. We’ve got the six. Can they all thrive? I don’t know. There is an ebb and flow among them in regard to growth and decline but it seems to me that a denomination that is showing no growth and in which our financial engines have declined and are now flat will portend some difficulty in the future. All of the seminaries have dedicated, sometimes noisy constituencies along with unique histories. If I took a 20 year nap and woke up in 2037, I’d be shocked to see anything other than the same six.
God bless SWBTS in a time of challenges.
There are plenty of SWBTS alumni who participate here along with a trustee or two. I haven’t been on the campus in years and haven’t had a conversation about this with anyone. It’s all from publicly disclosed information and data. If I missed or am incorrect about anything here, please correct or expand as is necessary.