Season 5 - Episode 502
Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary enjoyed incredible growth in 2021, from new academic programs and campuses to initiatives that reduce the cost of tuition for students. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Todd Still, The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and The William M. Henson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett, takes listeners inside a variety of exciting benchmarks and explains how they enhance the ways Truett is “of, by, and for the Church.”
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and today we are diving into exciting things taking place at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Our guest is Dr. Todd Still. Dr. Still serves as the Charles J. And Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and the William M Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Seminary. A Baylor graduate, he returned to his alma mater to teach in 2003, he was appointed as the fifth Dean of Truett Seminary in 2015. The Seminary enjoyed a 2021 year full of growth and new programming, from the launch of the San Antonio campus and approval of new degree programs and chair positions, to reduced tuition for students. Truett's 105 new students represented the largest incoming class in Truett history. All of that, and it's certainly the headwinds of the last couple of years, but Truett seems to be ahead facing that, standing into that with flying colors. And Dr. Still, excited to talk to you about all that and more today and really appreciate your time.
Todd Still:Derek, it's an honor to be with you and to visit about Truett Seminary.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Well, I guess there's so many exciting things to talk about, and we're going to talk about some of these superlatives individually. But beyond numbers and superlatives when you look back at 2021, what was significant about that year in the life of the Seminary and everyone who calls Truett home?
Todd Still:Yeah. Derek, sometimes it's easy to lose the forest for the trees, isn't it? You can begin to think about we've done A or B or C or X or Y or Z and forget mission. And so if we take one step back and we ask, what is it that animates Truett Seminary? It's our mission. We exist to equip God called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. So these individual achievements and accomplishments, what they do taken together is they propel us to be faithful to the mission to which we're called. So I think that in a context of COVID to be able to move the needle, to be able to take additional steps which is a long obedience in the same direction, will ultimately be the crowning achievement of 2021. We can look back and say to the best we were able, we were faithful to and energized by our mission.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Still, as you talk about the mission and what Truett exist to do, you've described Truett as being a place of, by and for the church. Could you unpack that a little bit for us and what that means day to day there?
Todd Still:So as we know Derek, Baylor was founded in 1845 by the Republic of Texas. And Baylor's been a university longer than Texas has been a state, we celebrate that fact. And from early on, in its life, Baylor described herself as Pro Ecclesia Pro Texana, for the church for Texans. What is true of Baylor in general is true of Truett in particular. To say that we're of the church means that it is the goodwill of the congregations that support our institution that allow us to exist. To say that we're by the church, this means that the church supports us, the church sustains us. In a way it's in the church that we live and move and have our being, to borrow a line from Acts. And then when we say that we're for the church, that means that we don't tolerate the church, we celebrate the church. The church isn't an impediment, the church is our purpose. And so frequently theological schools have a relationship that is fraught with local congregations. We don't want that tension to exist, we want rich reciprocal collaboration to exist. So when we say we're of, by and for the church, this is our attempt to say in no uncertain terms, that Truett Seminary wants to be a servant to the church.
Derek Smith:That's great. We're visiting with Dr. Todd Still, Dean and Professor at Truett Seminary. Now Dr. Still, I have to ask you, I enjoyed learning that Truett students and the Truett culture are fond of saying, "This is how we Truett." So anyone who's heard that song, This Is How We Do It, from the mid '90s, can hear that tune in their head if they grew up with that. But this is how we Truett, what sort of experiences or aspects of the culture inspire students to say that?
Todd Still:So, it obviously is a play upon that well known song, This Is How We Do It. Derek, this last summer, that is the summer of 2021, we were fortunate to be able to engage a consulting agency known as Polymath Incorporated. Polymath studied through conversations with faculty, staff, students, alumni, constituents. They had an opportunity to ask questions about Truett Seminary, what makes Truett, Truett. And they were able to say, "When the smoke clears the dust settles, there are four pillars," which is helpful since we have four that remain from independence. We are a seminary that values rigorous academic instruction, intentional spiritual formation, and the context of a caring community with a view to intellectual curiosity and humility in service of others. So when we are able to live into that identity, it's not unusual for someone to say, "This is how we Truett."
Derek Smith:That's fantastic, that's great. Well, certainly as we talk about some of the exciting things that happen, I think we're going to see how Truett embodies those four pillars and the students as well, as we visit with Dr. Todd Still and as we discussed there's been a lot of exciting things that have happened in the last year. Well, let's dive in first, if we could, with how Truett's making education more affordable, because we hear a lot about the cost of higher education and it's an important topic. Truett has taken action. What factors helped lead the Truett taking action and what needs helped this rise as an area of focus?
Todd Still:Derek, many people criticize higher education and oftentimes rightly so, for spiraling out of fiscal control. Our university in general has been as circumspect in its responsible in raising tuition as possible. Higher education is an expensive enterprise and we know all the reasons why. That being said, as you think about theological education in particular, Truett's one of the 12 schools and colleges that comprise Baylor University. There are some industries and some vocations where an educative price point can be higher, because those who graduate will go out and they'll not only do good, they'll likely do well. In theological education however, the majority of those who graduate will go into local church ministry or ministry in 501(c)(3) organizations, very few will realize significant salaries. So one of the questions that theological education institutions have to ask all the time is, do we have the right price point? Education must not only be quality, it must be accessible. It must not only be accessible, it must be affordable. And so as we look at our peers, where are we comparably? And that comparison gave rise to the question, is Truett at the right price point? And that's what spawned that which transpired.
Derek Smith:Well, you look at the numbers from 1071 to $690 per credit hour, that's a significant reduction to make it more affordable. What or who was instrumental in being able to make that happen? How was Truett able to come together with others to make that a possibility?
Todd Still:Derek, this reduction in tuition, which was to rise in academic year 2022, 2023 to $1,103 represents as it stands a 37% reduction in tuition. We were able to achieve this by ongoing conversation with the office of the Provost, with the chief business officer and the chief business officers colleagues, and with our business officer and those who work in scholarshipping including financial aid. And this is not widely known and it needs to be widely known, Baylor generously subsidizes all students in one fashion or another, undergrad graduate. They earmark certain monies in the budget each year. So we ask the university if it might be possible for them to take those monies and instead of subsidizing at the end, to subsidize at the beginning. And then we ask if we could take earnings off of a considerable endowment that has grown tremendously in the last six years from $51.8 million to $114.4 million. And if we could take the draw of some of that endowment and buy down further the price per credit hour. So what I would say is we were able to achieve this by the generosity of Baylor University, by the generosity of very committed and generous constituents, including individuals who give philanthropically, congregations that give philanthropically. And then frankly, Derek, we've had a hot market and fortunately Baylor is blessed by a remarkable investment team that is able to take the gifts of those who contribute towards endowments and offer significant returns on investment, particularly when you consider a 4% draw year after year. And so additional earnings are of course, put back into the corpus, which continues to expand, which allows a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious cycle to take effect.
Derek Smith:When you talk about being of, by and for the church, maybe money's not an area that we all would think of right away. But when you talk about that investment that's being made, that generosity from the university to help students ensure that money will be either not a barrier or certainly less of a barrier, I guess that's one way to live that out that probably most of us wouldn't think about off the bat.
Todd Still:I think that's entirely right, Derek. I mean, ministers who graduate from Truett Seminary are able to pursue the ministry into which they're called. Our effective placement rate, that is to say those who graduate from Truett six months after having done so, if they want a job 95% of the time, we can help them find one.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Todd Still:One of the impediments is what are they going to be paid? And in the event that they are unable to be responsive because of debt, the albatross of debt hanging around their necks, then this keeps them from doing what they feel grasped of God to do, led of God to do. So any barrier that we can remove to help them be responsive to and faithful to the call of God on their lives, this is something that we feel called to do. It's something that is part and parcel of Truett's commitment and mission.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections, we're visiting with Dr. Todd Still the Charles J and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and the William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures in the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. So we said so many exciting things taking place to talk about. Let's talk about another one, the San Antonio campus. People know the campus in Waco, many might not know that there's one in Houston as well and now San Antonio. How did San Antonio become a home for Truett and what are you most excited about as having that city a part of the family now?
Todd Still:Derek, in the early part of 2020 as COVID was beginning to rear its ugly head, Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio reached out to us to ask if we might be able, willing to partner with them in theological education, not only for San Antonio in particular, but for South Texas in general. A sister school decided to no longer offer theological education in that location, which opened up an opportunity for us. Through working with the Vice-Provost for Graduate Professional Education, Dr. Gary Carini with Provost Nancy Brickhouse, and then in consultation with faculty, and then ultimately in working with our accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools to gain accreditation, we were able to step into what we understand to be a relative vacuum, providing high quality, high touch theological education in San Antonio and for South Texas. What we are excited about is that we feel that when you now consider that Truett has its home base, the mothership as it were in Waco, when we have an extension leading to the Masters of Theological Studies, the Master of Arts and Christian Ministry and the Masters of Divinity and hopefully the Doctor of Ministry in both San Antonio and in Houston. They now talk about the L, ranging from Dallas Fort Worth all the way down to San Antonio, over on interstate 10 to Houston. If you draw a 100 mile radius around our three locations, you account for 72.8% of the population of Texas. So for us to be able to say that we are Pro Texana, we really do want to be able to reach a large swath of our state. And the fact that Baylor in general, Truett in particular is a national university, an international institution, enables us to simply extend and expand once again, our mission. This is not the building of a kingdom, this is the extension of a mission for kingdom building to remove barriers of education. See, many of these folks in San Antonio in Houston, they're not coming to Waco. It's not because they won't, it's because they can't. And so all good educational institutions have centrifugal and centripetal forces, you bring folks to you, you go to them. And so this is a part of that overall strategy of education and ministry of, by and for the church.
Derek Smith:That's great. You just think about the Gulf Coast down to South Texas, that's a wide area that's going to provide a more accessible opportunities for students and ministers. Visiting with Dr. Todd Still here on Baylor Connections, and Dr. Still would ask you about another exciting first for Truett. The first chair established through the Baylor Illuminate Chair Matching Program, Truett received an anonymous $1.5 million gift supporting the William J Abraham Endowed Chair in the Seminary's Wesley House of Studies. Want to talk about the gift and Wesley House of Studies. But as we talk about that, could you tell us first a little bit about the late Dr. Abraham and his impact? Because obviously when you think about ways people wanted to honor his legacy, this is a significant way that someone has done so.
Todd Still:It's absolutely tremendous, Derek. Truett has been fortunate to have any number of endowed chairs. In fact, I think as we look across the University, the Seminary may be the unit that has the most endowed chairs. Be that as it may, this is a first as you've noted. Reverend Dr. Billy J. Abraham, William J. Abraham, was a towering figure. Billy was a Wesleyan Theologian, philosopher, minister. And for many years, Dr. Abraham taught at the Perkins School of Theology. We were fortunate to be able to have Dr. Abraham quote come over to Macedonia and help us, as we stood up the Wesley House. He came to us in August of 2020, and from our perspective died an untimely death the first week of October 2021. In that short amount of time, we were able to stand up the Wesley House, begin to teach classes that will help Wesley and students, Methodist students in particular pursue their placement within their own ecclesial circles. And so when we talk about this chair, it will allow us to teach Wesley and students that come to us so that they will be well suited to minister in their ecclesial context. That is a remarkable impact and it's aptly named in honor of the one who helped Truett to actually begin its Wesley House.
Derek Smith:How will that chair impact students and your ability to grow that program, both in numbers and I suppose, in programming as well?
Todd Still:So Derek, we will be able, as we launch this search as early as this spring, to have an international search, to attract the highest caliber of scholar in the Wesleyan tradition, who can help give additional emphasis to, add additional luster to this fledgling effort. But the fascinating thing is we already, in just a little over a year, have 30 Wesleyan students enrolled in the Wesley house. Anticipate that we will have as many as 50 when we come to the fall of 2022. So this house is attracting a lot of attention, it's gaining a lot of traction and the Abraham Chair will only strengthen this initiative.
Derek Smith:Another area that has supported the Wesley house, Jeff and Debbie Wooley have made a $1 million scholarship gift as well. How are people like the Wooleys and other individual donors... I mean, if we mention one there's so many we could mention, but how are people sowing into Truett individually in ways that are growing it, whether this or otherwise?
Todd Still:Derek, you're generous to mention the Wooleys. They have given remarkably generous to the University in whole, and to the Seminary. And one of the ways that Jeff and Debbie have so helped Truett Seminary is they've given a $1 million scholarship to support students in the Wesley House. So this endowed scholarship, which will generate revenues through investment earnings, will allow us to subsidize students that are enrolled in the Wesley house. We had 368 students this past fall. We have now over 330 endowed scholarships. The aim is an endowed scholarship, the floor of which is 50,000 for every student. We don't want students necessarily to be able to go for free, but we want to do all we can to shrink the fiscal responsibility and liability. And when the Wooleys and others like them give so generously, it helps us to prepare the next generation of ministers and missionaries. And our Baylor family has a real soft spot in their hearts to support students who feel called of God to carry the gospel of God to the world.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Dr. Todd Still, and Dr. Still as we head into the few moments on the program, I want to ask you about another area and certainly an area of tremendous importance. We talk about the future church. The Future Church Project has been launched at Truett with the help of $1 million Lilly Endowment Grant. So beyond the title, what is that and how is it going to help Truett faculty, students, and more, consider and impact in a positive way to future church?
Todd Still:Derek, the Future Church Program is co-directed by Dr. Angela Gorrell and Dr. Dustin Benac. This program focuses on leadership, emergent adults, it focuses as well on pedagogy, how to tell the story of the gospel well, and then lived experience, current concerns like mental health and the like. The church is always one generation away from extinction, and it does us well to recognize that. And so many consider themselves nones and dones, how do you engage these people? We aspire as a seminary to be a leader in training thoughtful, faithful Christian leaders, ministers for the 21st century church and world. So this program is in sync with that vision. And we believe that this generous grant that Lilly has given, will allow us to stand up this program, which really works in the academic area of practical theology that will result in new research, new programming, new engagement. And so what it does is it serves as a catalyst to allow the seminary to even be more fruitful and faithful to our mission.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Still you say as we talk about the Future Church Program specifically, certainly so much of what you do is geared with an eye towards the future church. You've painted a great picture of the exciting ways that the Truett has grown. As we wind down, how would you like to sum up the, not just... Well, as we've looked back at some of the new things that have happened in the past year, what are you excited about that vision going forward to see these grow and impacting the future church and those who serve it in new ways?
Todd Still:When Moses encountered God in the burning bush in the desert, Moses's ask, "What do you have in your hand?" And I think we do well to ask ourselves, how can we steward the opportunities that have been afforded us? Truett is remarkably blessed to be embedded into such a strong university, now a research I university, a university who has a Christian identity and a university that celebrates its seminary. So how can we use the resources, how can we steward the opportunities that are ours? And in a way, all of the things about which we've spoken are examples of an overarching aim and goal to be found faithful, be found fruitful for the work and the witness that is ours. And so we look forward in this new year, we are launching three new Master of Arts degrees. We will continue to ask questions, how can we do everything that we can to be the best seminary that we can be, not only for our university, not only for Baptist Christians, but for kingdom cause. And so, as we look forward into this new calendar year, we just want to do what Paul says to the Thessalonians. We just want to do more and more, be mindful of the things that we've launched, pay careful attention to them and look for opportunities that are around us to partner and to collaborate. As I often say, not only does the Kingdom of God run along relational rails, but blessed are the collaborators they get and give life. So let's find ways to be better together than we could ever be by ourselves.
Derek Smith:Well, it's wonderful to see the ways Truett is doing that and you've painted a great picture of it, and we're excited to see these flourish in the years ahead and see what else is in store. And just want to thank you for taking the time to visit with us today and sharing about all this here on Baylor Connections.
Todd Still:It's a joy Derek, always good to visit with you.
Derek Smith:Great to visit with you as well. Thank you so much, Dr. Todd Still the Charles J at Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean and the William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor George W. Truett Theological Seminary. I'm Derek Smith and when I leave, you can hear this end of the programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and please subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.