San Francisco Theological Seminary reaches “agreement in principle” to become part of University of Redlands

San Francisco Theological Seminary and the University of Redlands, which is east of Los Angeles in southern California, have reached an agreement that will create a new Graduate School of Theology and embed San Francisco Theological Seminary within the university.

The announcement states that the boards of the institutions have reached an “agreement in principle” and will work together in the coming months to finalize the merger.

Exactly what the implications for the seminary and its San Anselmo campus, in Marin County north of San Francisco, will be are still unfolding. The announcement states that the seminary and its degree programs “will remain essentially unchanged at our San Anselmo campus,” and says the new partnership “will enlarge our geographic and demographic reach.” It also states that the seminary will be able to offer interdisciplinary degrees and certificates in new combinations with the university’s degree programs – for example, pairing theology with business, counseling or the arts.

A blog post from the University of Redlands states that an agreement in principle has been reached to “move towards the acquisition, anticipated by July 2019, of San Francisco Theological Seminary” to form a new graduate school at the University of Redlands and “a new regional campus in the Bay Area.”

That blog post also states that seminary officials approached the university “as their institution’s desired partner and potential acquirer, a little more than a year ago.” And it states that the addition of the seminary’s “healthy endowment and eight endowed faculty chairs” will increase the university’s financial strength and pool of faculty talent.

San Francisco Theological Seminary operated a second campus in Pasadena from 1990 until 2011, with classes held at Pasadena Presbyterian Church near Fuller Theological seminary, but closed that southern California campus for budgetary reasons.

In a “frequently asked questions” section of the announcement, the seminary’s leadership states that “the landscape of traditional college and university education is changing across the U.S. and the standalone seminary model is undergoing a transformational change. … Embedding within a larger university is a proven model for seminaries to thrive, and this partnership allows SFTS to preserve its time-honored mission and identity.”

The announcement also states that SFTS “will continue as a Presbyterian-informed seminary” embedded within a nonsectarian, multicultural and interfaith Graduate School for Theology at the University of Redlands. “Ordination will not be affected,” the announcement states.

It also says the San Anselmo campus will become part of the University of Redlands and will be the “primary location” for SFTS and its degree programs, although the arrangement will give the seminary “expanded access to the Southern California market to reach more students” and some University of Redlands programs might be added at the San Anselmo campus as well.

A “Frequently Asked Questions” post on the University of Redlands website states that the San Anselmo campus would be the university’s 8th campus and “the vision of the campus is as a new site for programs, initially of the School of Education, School of Business, and School of Continuing Studies and collaborations of many kinds with the new Graduate School of Theology. … Further, the new Graduate School of Theology can offer programs and degrees at our many campuses in Southern California.”

The announcements do not specifically address the ownership of the San Anselmo property or the financial arrangements involved. It does state that all SFTS faculty “will be retained.”

The university’s FAQ post states that the new Graduate School of Theology is expected to be self-sustaining, and includes this question:

Isn’t SFTS failing financially? If U of R sometimes struggles to make enrollment revenue goals, why is it taking on another institution’s debt?            

Many tuition-dependent institutions of higher education have difficulty consistently attracting the required numbers of students who seek the particular student experience and career pathways they offer. SFTS and many other independent seminary-based graduate education institutions are no different.

While the University assumes SFTS’s debt, this is more than offset by substantial tangible assets and other benefits, which will be realized immediately and over time. These include a significant endowment, a valuable property, current tuition-paying students whose numbers are expected to grow through establishment of the broader Graduate School of Theology, endowed faculty scholars, and access to a major new market.

The seminary’s participation in the Graduate Theological Union also will continue, the announcement states.