After a decade of enrollment decline, leaders began to see the seminary's biggest financial asset as a liability. They hope relocation could be the big change they need.
After years of declining enrollments, budget deficits, and deep faculty and staff cuts, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has decided to sell its 102-acre main campus in Hamilton, Massachusetts.
The historic evangelical seminary plans to relocate to Boston, where many of its students live already, while continuing to operate satellite campuses in Florida and North Carolina and offering online degree programs.
President Scott Sunquist told CT that if the bold move is successful, the seminary will be “on better financial ground than it has been in 30 years.”
The Hamilton campus—a hilltop property just outside the metro area that was previously owned by Carmelite Catholic monks—has an assessed tax value of about $54 million. Gordon-Conwell is set to begin discussions about amending its zoning with the Hamilton city council on Tuesday. If the town agrees to put the property into a commercial overlay district, the value could significantly increase.
The money from the sale of the property will go to Gordon-Conwell’s endowment. That will allow the seminary to lease classroom and office space in Boston, hire back a few faculty for positions that have been left unfilled, and remain solvent without dramatically increasing enrollment.
“We plan on growing,” Sunquist said. “But we won’t have to grow much if we can stay steady.”
Gordon-Conwell’s enrollment has declined from 1,230 full-time equivalent students in 2012 to 633 in 2021, according to data from the Association of Theological Schools. Tax records show that from 2016 to 2019, the school ended each year with an annual deficit between $600,000 and $2.4 million.
The challenges are not unique to Gordon-Conwell. Many seminaries …