Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) will not charge tuition for students in its master’s degree programs in divinity, marriage and family therapy and religion beginning in 2015. Tuition is currently a little over $10,200.

“As a result of this bold decision, Louisville Seminary is poised to make not only a difference in the future of this school and in theological education, but also a difference for the future of the church,” said Pamela G. Kidd, chair of the Board of Trustees, following the trustees’ unanimous and enthusiastic vote.

The trustees also committed to raising about $17 million toward the program. The seminary’s current endowment is about $70 million. By 2021 the seminary intends to offer an additional stipend to every student to cover living expenses.

Total master’s degree enrollment will be capped at 130 ― down from about 150 currently ― to make the tuition-free program affordable and more selective. “Capping the size of entering classes will make full funding of each student an achievable goal within a relatively short time frame,” said Patrick Cecil, LPTS’s vice-president and CFO in a statement released by the seminary announcing the historic program.

Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that while some seminaries offer considerable financial aid to students, “I do not know of a school that has decided to downsize the student body to the number that it can fully scholarship.”

The tuition-free program is an element of the seminary’s new strategic plan, called “Covenant for the Future.”

“The ends of theological education are not on the Seminary campus,” said LPTS President Michael Jinkins in the seminary’s announcement. “The ends, the ultimate purpose and meaning of everything we teach, are out there in the world. That is where Louisville Seminary’s vision is cast. Our strategic plan seeks to address the needs of the church today and the unknown needs of tomorrow, and to respond to those needs with adventurous leadership.”

Susan R. Garrett, LPTS’s dean-elect said the new program will enable the seminary to tailor its student body to the emerging needs of the church. “The ‘Covenant Scholarship Plan’ will enable us to maintain high academic standards, while also favoring candidates with demonstrated gifts and graces for ministerial service,” she said. “Emphasis will be on achieving the highest quality, rather than quantity, of entering students and of classes as a whole. At the same time, we will seek to admit classes that reflect the racial, ethnic, national, and theological diversity in which our graduates will serve.”

In exchange for their financial aid, students will be required to engage in service throughout their time at the seminary. Service will take various forms, such as field education or practicum placement in a church, community service agency, or non-profit organization in Louisville, or on campus in various roles.  

“Eliminating the need for field site stipends will expand the variety of settings in which students can receive practical formation. This will be a blessing not only to the students but also to congregations, agencies, and other areas of service that, to date, have not been able to engage a seminarian in their work,” added Garrett in the seminary’s announcement.