Of course, we can’t ignore the significant decline in full-time enrollment among Fuller, Southwestern, Trinity Evangelical, and several others that have transpired over the course of twenty years. Explanations may vary as to the reasons. Perhaps America’s slowly-recovering economy after the 2008 recession played a role or society’s growing discomfort with Christianity and hostility towards the public role of the Church makes an impact on student’s career choices.
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.