Applications to Divinity School up 13 percent

With the economy sliding further into a recession, applications to Yale Divinity School have increased as people seek spiritual solace from the financial maelstrom, Divinity School administrators said.

Yale Divinity School reported a 13 percent increase in total applications, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Anna Ramirez DIV ’93 said Monday. The school had received 550 applications by its Feb. 1 deadline, up from 485 last year. The figure is the highest for the school over the past six years — the only years for which admissions data was made available to the News.

Although the number of applications at the Divinity School has risen over the past two years, administrators at the Divinity School said the bearish economic climate and the accompanying social stresses contributed to this year’s increase in applications. Similar application increases occurred nationwide after the dot-com crash and Sept. 11, when enrollment at seminaries nationwide surged 8 percent, according to the Association of Theological Schools.

“There are people who are seeking second careers, people who have lost their jobs, and people who were contemplating graduate degrees and then decide to pursue something meaningful like the Divinity School,” said Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge in an interview Tuesday.

Still, class size at the Divinity School will remain steady despite the rise in applications. Attridge said the school expects to admit an incoming class of 135 to 140 students next fall. The school’s current enrollment is close to 400, with the majority of students graduating in three years.

Amid the financial turmoil, the Divinity School’s financial aid policy is particularly attractive to these students.

Over the past several years, the percentage of scholarship aid given by the school has increased substantially. Attridge said the Divinity School currently subsidizes about 82 percent of aggregate student tuition, up from 65 percent in 2007.

Most of the aid comes from the school’s endowment, which was valued at approximately $325 million at the end of 2008, though the University has reported a decrease in that figure by approximately 25 to 30 percent.

But the endowment’s woes should not hurt financial aid at the school. In a December 2008 letter to the Divinity School community, Attridge said he expected the gross amount of scholarship aid to continue to grow in 2009, albeit at a slower rate than in previous years.

Only about half of Divinity School graduates seek ordination to become ministers; many go on to teach, work at nonprofit organizations or practice law.

One of those students who will pursue plans other than the ministry is Peter Cookson DIV ’10, a long-time educator and administrator. Cookson, 66, plans to return to education after graduation, but on a global level.

Although Cookson applied to the Divinity School before the recession hit, he said, he senses that society is in transition to a new era.

“It’s kind of a bellwether about society,” Cookson said. “People are beginning to think about bigger issues.”

Yale Divinity School will notify applicants of the school’s decision in mid-March.

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