Ever since he was a boy, Jae Jun “Daniel” Cho dreamed of attending Perkins School of Theology.
His parents are both pastors in the Korean Methodist Church; his father wanted to study at Perkins but went elsewhere because Perkins was not freely open to international students at that time.
Perkins was Cho’s first choice when he began looking into a seminary education, and Perkins was the first to respond to his application with an acceptance. That was soon followed by a financial aid offer that covered 100 percent of his tuition.
“Without the financial aid offer, studying at Perkins would have remained only as a dream,” he said. “The financial aid offer was not only a deciding factor, but also a factor making my dream come true!”
Cho’s story is not an isolated or unusual one. Perkins has a dedicated team of people, armed with an arsenal of tools and resources, to put seminary within reach financially for every qualified student who wishes to attend.
“Our generous donors make Perkins affordable,” said Margot Perez-Greene, Associate Dean of Enrollment Management. “We work very closely with each student, so that they can graduate with little or no debt.”
According to a 2019 report from the Association of Theological Schools, students spend a median amount of more than $53,000 for a seminary education. Nearly half borrow money to cover tuition, with total debt averaging around $35,000. Given that salaries for ministers with master’s degrees start around $47,000, debt can create an unsustainable burden and a less-than-ideal way to begin a ministry career. (Tuition at Perkins’ Dallas campus runs about $733 per credit hour, with most students taking 9-12 hours each semester.)
Financial aid is each student’s responsibility, but Perkins’ Office of Enrollment Management (OEM) works closely with incoming students as well as current students.
“We have a great track record of helping students find financial aid that makes Perkins affordable,” said Perez-Greene. “Currently, 100 percent of our master’s degree students with demonstrated need are receiving financial aid of some kind.”
The OEM takes a holistic approach, weighing each student’s application, essay, recommendations, transcript and grades, special interests and student characteristics, and connections to the United Methodist Church or other denominations. The office then guides each student in putting together a package that includes scholarships, grants and other financial aid.
“We have endowments designated specifically for people in the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church,” Perez-Greene said. Students who live or plan to apply for ordination in the South Central Jurisdiction can usually find some scholarship opportunity. (The South Central Jurisdiction encompasses 12 Annual Conference in eight states – Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.) For example, Pastor Sal Perales, an M.Div. student, hails from New Mexico, so he qualified for financial aid from an endowment based in the New Mexico Annual Conference.
In addition, students may qualify for financial aid designated for those focusing in specific areas, such as preaching, evangelism or social justice. The OEM also works closely with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation (UMHEF).
“We advise our students that affording seminary includes partners,” said Perez-Greene. “We encourage students to talk to local churches, campus ministries and other groups that have scholarship dollars for which they may be eligible. Current students have reported that often they have been the recipient of a scholarship because no one else applied. A clergy couple who graduated from Perkins recently shared that many hours were spent applying for outside scholarships, and they both graduated without debt. So there is money out there to lessen debt. We have a complete listing of these scholarships posted on the Affording Seminary web page.”
‘Like Coming Home’
Perkins’ many connections with the United Methodist Church help draw many students, including Brayden Bishop. He grew up hearing about Perkins at his church, Custer Road United Methodist, in Plano. When it was time to apply for graduate school, Perkins was the only choice in his mind.
“I had always heard about Perkins,” he said. “Many of my pastors earned their M.Div. degrees at Perkins. I knew it was a great place where people got to really explore their ministry.”
However, Bishop was prepared to wait a few years before beginning his studies, in order to save up money before attending seminary.
“I didn’t hesitate to apply, but I did hesitate about coming right away,” he said. “I didn’t want to go into debt. If I had to wait a couple of years, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
Working closely with Perez-Greene as well as Stephen Bagby in the OEM, Bishop was able to secure a financial aid package that covers 90 percent of his tuition. He started at Perkins last fall and hopes to graduate with his M.Div. in 2022.
“If not for Margot and Stephen, I would not be at Perkins now,” he said. “The work they put in – that’s why I’m here today. It felt like coming home. I always felt as if Perkins was this place that was calling me.”
Like Bishop, many students choose Perkins in part based on its location. Perkins’ Dallas location gives students access to many vibrant congregations as well as a wide range of nonprofit agencies and ministries.
The financial aid process doesn’t end with matriculation. Once at Perkins, students receive ongoing support. A Financial Literacy program helps students to become financially savvy, with tips on budgeting and money management. The program is funded through a $250,000 grant as part of Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. Perkins was one of 67 theological schools across the U.S. and Canada to receive grant funding.
Another source of financial support: Students in the M.Div. and M.A.M. degree programs work in paid nine-month internships.
“It’s amazing how much money is out there to assist students,” said Perez-Greene. “It takes time to research them and apply. But I’ve seen students do it. And we’re here to help them every step of the way.”