SWBTS trustees receive reports of financial stability, enrollment growth

FORT WORTH, Texas—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees heard reports of renewed financial stability and enrollment growth during their April 9-10 meeting held on the Fort Worth campus, which was marked by a spirit of unity, President David S. Dockery said.

“Southwestern Seminary is in a very different place than in September 2022,” said Dockery, noting many factors. “All this has happened because of God’s providential kindness to us.”

Trustees unanimously approved a $35.6 million budget, elected and promoted faculty, named faculty to academic chairs and approved graduates for spring 2024 during the meeting.

Board Chairman Jonathan Richard thanked Dockery for his “capable leadership,” commended trustees for their work during the meeting, noted the “high morale” among students and faculty and affirmed the seminary’s faculty as a “one of our greatest assets to this institution.”

Richard said trustees “continue to rely on the Lord for guidance” and during his tenure on the board he has been “thankful for the sustaining presence of the Lord here.”

He added that the seminary’s current financial situation is “stronger than it has been in years, and I know that with continued hard work and sacrifice, the financial future is hopeful.”

The board approved a $35.6 million budget for the 2025 fiscal year, a decrease of $300,000 from the originally approved budget for the current year. Trustees also approved the firm Guinn Smith & Company as auditors for the fiscal year 2024.

In his report to trustees, Dockery noted the collective thankfulness “to God for His presence” and the “obvious presence of the Spirit leading us,” resulting in a “genuine spirit of unity and humility that was present in all aspects of our work.” He added that everyone is “very hopeful for the days to come.”

Southwestern influence

Dockery highlighted two recent “big announcements” in the Southern Baptist Convention that exemplify the influence of Southwestern Seminary. On March 21, Jeff Iorg, current president of Gateway Seminary, was elected president of the SBC Executive Committee. Iorg, who was honored as a distinguished alumnus in 2022, holds a Doctor of Ministry from Southwestern. Pending approval of the board of trustees at Gateway, Adam Groza, a two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate, including a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2009, will assume the presidency of Gateway Seminary.

“We are thankful for the influence Southwestern continues to have not just here on this campus, but across the world where there is not a time zone … across the globe in which there is not a Southwesterner serving at this time,” Dockery added.

Encouraging future

Dockery told trustees the seminary is “very hopeful” about ongoing giving to the institution. He noted that unrestricted giving is “steady” and that temporarily unrestricted giving is “ahead of the last three years.” He said that the seminary’s operational budget is “in a good place” as it is more than $1.5 million ahead of the same time last year. He added that the seminary currently has $8.4 million in cash “which no one would have imagined this time last year.”

Dockery also mentioned the $3.4 million that was placed in a “quasi-endowment fund” that is overseen by the board.

“We have moved from crisis to challenge to stability,” Dockery observed, adding “we’re not yet at a place where we can call institutional health; we still have work to do to get there.” He said the seminary will “continue to work as hard and as wisely and as carefully as we can, but we must not fail to give thanks to God for answering our prayers.”

Dockery also commended the work of the Board of Reference, a group of “50 key voices across SBC life where they speak” into the work of the seminary as they give “guidance to our work.”

Dockery noted that one-third of the objectives of the Advance Southwestern 2030 institutional plan, which trustees adopted in the spring 2023 meeting, have been completed. He also explained there have been “markers of hopefulness,” including the spring 2023 chapel sermons focused on 1 and 2 Thessalonians; the new employee handbook; enrollment progress, including the upcoming Southwestern Preview Day; unrestricted giving; an embracing of the institution’s core values; and the commitment to prayer across the campus.

During the meeting, Dockery publicly thanked the board officers for their decision to give him a raise and bonus, which he declined, explaining he wanted all employees to be rewarded while the president should be last. Richard said Dockery’s actions were “the Lord affirming to me that we have the right man in the president’s office.”

Enrollment analysis

Dockery reported an increase in enrollment and hours taught. He said the credit hours taught in the 2022-2023 academic year were 34,836, representing an increase of 1,583 credit hours from the previous academic year. Enrollment also showed an increase of 171 students in the 2022-2023 academic year from the prior year.

Dockery added that there was an increase of 479 credit hours taught in the fall of 2023 compared to the fall of 2022 and the 15,821 credit hours taught in the fall of 2023 also reflected an increase of 1,066 credit hours taught compared to the fall of 2021.

He said the spring 2024 academic semester includes 2,711 students, an increase of 71 students enrolled in spring 2023 which was up from 2,561 the year prior. Dockery said that “uptick in credit hours is the key to our stable tuition revenue line which is so important for our overall budget.”

He noted that the total hours taught for spring 2024 has increased by almost 600 hours over spring 2023 – 14,709 credit hours taught in the current semester compared to 14,152 credit hours taught in spring 2023. The credit hours taught in spring 2024 represent an increase of more than 1,350 credit hours taught compared to spring 2022.

Citing data from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) annual enrollment report, which includes 274 divinity schools and seminaries, Dockery said that in the fall of 2023, Southwestern moved to 5th in total enrollment and 6th in total credit hours taught. The increases in enrollment and total credit hours taught make Southwestern 3rd and 4th, respectively, among Southern Baptist seminaries. Dockery also noted that Southwestern was 3rd among all of the ATS institutions regarding the total number of graduates in the past year and 9th concerning the size of the total endowment.

He added there is “no other Southern Baptist school that finished in the top 10” in all four categories of number of graduates, enrollment, credit hours taught, and endowment. He said the ranking “distinguishes Southwestern in a meaningful way” for which he gave “thanks to God.”

Providing a breakdown of the current student body, Dockery said that 23 percent of students are women, while international students make up 26 percent of students. Additionally, 58 percent are online students, and a “Revelation 7:9 picture of the Kingdom of God” is reflected among the students as 40 percent of students are white, 28 percent are Asian, 21 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Black, and 6 percent of unknown ethnicity, he said.

“What takes place at Southwestern is not just counting the numbers, it’s a recognition that each one of these numbers represents a person – a person called to serve in the church, to serve our denomination, to go to the mission field, to be in counseling sessions, to be in the classroom, serve in parachurch organizations, wherever God might lead that person and we never know where they’re going while they’re here,” he said.

School and board business

Trustees received an announcement of the appointment of Carl J. Bradford as the dean of Texas Baptist College, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Seminary. Bradford, whose appointment is effective May 6, led the devotion for the plenary session of the trustee meeting.

Trustees also promoted W. Madison Grace II to professor of theology, Dean Sieberhagen to professor of missions, Michael Wilkinson to professor of theology, and Joshua Williams to professor of Old Testament. Additionally, Amy Crider, associate professor of foundations of education, and Jonathan Okinaga, assistant professor of biblical counseling, were elected to the faculty. All actions are effective August 1.

Trustees named O.S. Hawkins, chancellor and senior professor of pastoral ministry and evangelism, to the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”); Lilly H. Park, associate professor of biblical counseling, to The Hultgren Chair of Ministerial Counseling; Okinaga to the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling; and Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship, to the McKinney Chair of Church Music.

Trustees approved the students nominated by the faculty and certified by the registrar as having met all the requirements for spring 2024 graduation.

Richard (New Mexico), Robert Brown (Tennessee), and Angela Duncan (At-Large), who have served as chairman, vice chairman, and secretary, respectively, were re-elected to one-year terms as officers of the board.

Three outgoing trustees were recognized for their service. Michael Trammel (Maryland-Delaware-DC), Ron Pracht (Kansas-Nebraska), John Rayburn (At-Large) were thanked by Richard for their time and valuable contributions provided during their tenures on the board.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21-23, 2024.

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