How ESR Compares

It is difficult to justly compare the relative merits of a seminary and the education it offers.  How can qualities like, for instance, spiritual growth be objectively measured and compared?  With these caveats in mind, though, there are a few pertinent benchmarks that can cast considerable light on a seminary's institutional performance in relation to its peers.  This section will briefly examine four sets of such general criteria: tuition rates, annual expenditures, endowment holdings, student / faculty ratios, and the size of library collections.  The data employed in this section is derived from annual surveys conducted by ATS to collect and track the institutional performance of its member schools.  In presenting this data, ESR is benchmarked against the performance of six 'peer' institutions to help contextualize the data presented, and render it more meaningful to the reader.

The peer institutions employed to highlight ESR's comparative institutional performance were selected based on three sets of criteria:

  1. Service to the Society of Friends,
  2. Geographic proximity to ESR, and
  3. Service to the other two major historic peace churches.

George Fox Evangelical Seminary and the Houston Graduate School of Theology were chosen to represent the other seminaries that also serve the Society of Friends as part of their mission (The Houston Graduate School of Theology has been included in this survey, despite the fact that it recently dropped its mandate of serving the ministry training needs of Friends, and is now more accurately described as an ecumenical seminary.  The Malone College School of Theology was not included in this survey, as it is not a member of ATS and, thus, does not provide comparable data.).  The Anderson University School of Theology, affiliated with the Church of God, is included because of its close geographic proximity to ESR, in east-central Indiana.  Associated Mennonite, Eastern Mennonite and Bethany Theological Seminaries, finally, represent the primary seminaries of the other two major historic peace churches.  All these seminaries are also fairly similar in size to ESR, with a student body ranging in size from 44.5 (Bethany) to 94.7 (Associated Mennonite) FTEs in 2003.

Tuition rates are an important benchmark for institutional performance.  If tuition rates are too high, and corresponding student financial aid too low, then deserving candidates and talented prospective leaders may be denied the opportunity to pursue seminary studies.  With a tuition rate of $7,155 for a year of full-time study in 2003, ESR can be seen to have one of the lowest tuition rates among its peer institutions.  This low tuition is augmented by the fact that, for every dollar ESR charges in tuition, it disburses approximately sixty cents in financial aid to students (In 2003, ESR received $245,124 in tuition revenue and dispersed $143,000 in student financial aid).

In comparing ESR's overall finances to those of its institutional peers, it is illustrative to base this comparison on the number of full-time student equivalents served.  This allows more valid comparisons to be drawn in terms of the amount of educational resources dedicated to each student.  The two accompanying graphs have been constructed to reflect annual operating expenditures and endowment holdings per student FTE.  A caveat needs to be stated in terms of reading the numbers contained in these graphs, of course, as changes over time in expenditures per student can indicate overall changes in either enrollment and/or expenditures.

In terms of annual operating expenditures per student, ESR is well ahead of the two other major seminaries that serve Friends —these being George Fox and Houston.  With $35,874 in operational expenditures per student in 2003, ESR is in line with the spending levels of the two Mennonite seminaries, Associated and Eastern.  While Bethany's relatively high level of expenditures per student is certainly reflective of the very high caliber of instruction it offers, it may also point to the fact that Bethany also carries out a number of administrative functions on behalf of the Church of the Brethren as a whole.

Endowment holdings are another important indicator of institutional performance.  They point to both a measure of institutional stability, and to the ability of an educational institution to offer a consistently high quality of instruction at relatively low cost.  In terms of endowment holdings, ESR is in a class of its own among its peer institutions, with a total endowment of $25,973,000 in 2003.  This works out to $582,960 in endowment holdings per student FTE for that year.  The only seminary in ESR's peer group that even comes close to this figure is Bethany, with $460,674 in endowment holdings per student FTE in 2003.

The student / faculty ratio of an education institution is another of the more significant barometers for measuring the value of instruction offered.  Particularly at the graduate level, a student's access to teaching resources is an important determinant of instruction quality.  Again, as illustrated in the accompany graph, ESR leads the field among its peer institutions, with 4.25 student FTEs per faculty FTE in 2003.  Of additional significance is the fact that ESR has achieved and maintains a low student-faculty ratio without resorting to part-time, adjunct faculty at the expense of full-time faculty, as has been the case with some other schools such as the Houston School of Theology.

The final criteria examined in this section concerns Library Collections.  Because ESR shares a library with Earlham College, its students and faculty have access to a far larger library collection than any of its peer institutions (excepting, of course, Bethany, with which ESR also shares library resources).  With 413,000 volumes in Earlham's Lilly library in 2003, ESR students have better on-campus access to research materials than even students at other seminaries that also share library resources with a college, such as Anderson.  Plus, the fact that Bethany Seminary shares in Earlham's library collective means that ESR students have access to many special collections relating to Quakers and Church of the Brethren that are, quite simply, not available anywhere else in the world.

In conclusion, it may be well and truly observed that ESR stands in a class of its own among its peer seminaries.  In regards to every major aspects of seminary quality for which there is valid comparable data, ESR consistently ranks among the best seminaries in its class.  Whether the comparators be accessibility, the amount of tuition charged, operational expenditures and capital resources per student, student-faculty ratios, or library collections, ESR consistently ranks among the best seminaries in its class.  Indeed, ESR's biggest problem, at least in terms of peer comparators, would seem to be the need for a new set of peers against which to measure its performance.  As one weighty Quaker noted in ESR's consultation Among Friends (a comment quoted earlier in this Case):

"ESR needs to emphasize performance and they need to get serious about being the best, not just the best Quaker seminary.  Since it's the only one, that's not a problem.  They need to compete head to head with the top seminaries in the United States and they need to settle for nothing less.  The problem is that the vision among Quakers is so small.  If we've got the best religion in the world, let's start acting like it.  And that goes for the students they recruit as well" (Among Friends, pg. 208).

Just so.  ESR needs to stop comparing itself to other seminaries based upon locality, or affiliation to Quakers, or even to seminaries serving the other major historical peace churches.  ESR needs to begin comparing itself to the top seminaries in the country, and setting goals for itself that match an aspiration to be the best seminary there is in any class.  Both the illustrious history and present situation of the Society of Friends demand it.  Modesty ceases to be virtue when it comes to setting goals for an institution in the situation in which ESR finds itself.  The following Part of this Case advances a proposed outline of the resources ESR requires to fulfill this vision of becoming the best seminary in the country.