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In Trust Magazine – How to make big transformational changes

In Trust magazine featured VST, among 5 other schools, who have made bold moves to adjust to the changing academic environment.

Six theological schools took bold, drastic action to confront this radically changed academic environment

Vancouver School of Theology (VST) has an affiliation agreement with a larger university — the massive University of British Columbia (UBC), with its nearly 65,000 students on two campuses. But affiliation doesn’t mean financial support, and 10 years ago, VST was facing the same challenges as dozens of other theological schools: old buildings in need of repair, a changing student body, and a shifting educational model that required more technology and less student housing.

At that time, VST occupied the historic Iona Building on the leafy UBC campus, a 100,000-square-foot structure on a parcel of land VST had been leasing from UBC since 1927. But, following a comprehensive review of its programs, the VST board concluded that the seminary required different facilities. For nearly one and a half years, the VST board, faculty, and senior staff reviewed how the institution could best fulfill its mandate. They decided to approach UBC with an offer to sell the Iona Building. 

VST sold the building to UBC for 28 million Canadian dollars (about US$21 million), the proceeds of which provided the school with the resources to do a gut renovation of another building it already owned a 25,000-square-foot student residence called Somerville House which they would use as an administrative building repurposed for the delivery of theological education to both on-site and distance education learners. “Using an existing building helped speed up the permissions required and expedited the finished project,” says Richard Topping, VST principal. According to the VST website, the sale “also enabled the establishment of the VST Foundation, which now holds the bulk of the assets from the sale, guaranteeing a financially robust future for VST students for many years to come.”

Since reducing its footprint moving to a smaller building and eliminating the library and student housing programs have increased, enrollment is up, and distance learning now represents a greater percentage of its course registrations than before the move.