by Chelsen Vicari, The Institute on Religion and Democracy 8/1/16.
Thanks to figures collected by the Association of Theological Schools(ATS), it’s possible to compile full-time student enrollment among accredited schools to get a better picture of the largest seminaries in the United States.
Latest reports from the 2015-16 academic year reveal an interesting picture: students seeking training for church ministry in the United States are largely attracted to evangelical Protestant seminaries, a trend that hasn’t changed much over the past twenty years.
A note regarding data collection: this compiled list is only a comparison of full-time students enrolled in seminaries accredited with the ATS. The ATS does provide a head count enrollment total which includes part-time students. But since full-time enrollment is the most stable measure of seminary size, this still accurately represents institutional attainment.
The evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary ranks largest with 1,542 full-time enrolled students during the 2015-16 academic year. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary follow closely behind with 1,438 and 1,356 full-time enrolled students, respectively.
While all of the ten largest seminaries in the country are evangelical Protestant, it’s interesting that half of those schools are Southern Baptist-affiliated. Five of the six theological seminaries associated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are among the top ten largest in the country. Meanwhile, the SBC-affiliated Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary barely missed the list with 705 full-time students enrolled.
Fluctuations between America’s top ten largest seminaries during the 2015-16 and 1995-96 academic school years are surprisingly narrow. Only Reformed Theological Seminary, Presbyterian Church USA-affiliated Princeton Theological Seminary, and United Methodist Church-affiliated Candler School of Theology fell out of the top ten.
Since the 1995-96 academic school year, Princeton Theological Seminary has seen 30 percent fewer full-time enrolled students. Reformed Theological Seminary saw a 33 percent decrease to 547 full-time students while Candler School of Theology experienced a 39 percent drop to 414 full-time students.