Theological Center in Atlanta faces serious financial challenges

Officials are hopeful. ”We are rising from the ashes ... “ said Interim President Maisha Handy
Dr. Maisha Handy, the new interim president of the Interdenominational Theological Center poses for a portrait at the ITC Chapel on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. Handy recently (Natrice Miller/

Dr. Maisha Handy, the new interim president of the Interdenominational Theological Center poses for a portrait at the ITC Chapel on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. Handy recently (Natrice Miller/

For more than 60 years, Interdenominational Theological Center graduates have filled many Black Church pulpits and community leadership roles across the country.

Today, the historic Atlanta-based institution is facing a crisis that threatens its future.

“The ITC is facing some serious financial challenges,” said the Rev. Maisha I. Handy, who was recently named interim president. “Past board and administrative decisions have placed the institution in a deep crisis.”

She said ITC needs about $2.5 million to regain its financial footing through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Last year, the institution began taking corrective actions such as staff reductions, pausing the master’s degree program and other steps. But the challenges remain.

Handy, who has only been in the top leadership role a few months, is continuing an ambitious fund-raising campaign seeking donations and contributions from major donors, alumni, churches and other supporters.

“We are rising from the ashes of the challenges facing theological education and religious traditions in this nation,” she said.

Asked if closing was a possibility, Calvin E. Booker Sr., chairman of ITC’s board of trustees, said “We don’t have a desire to close. If we have to close it would be on a temporary basis, but we hope to keep it going. We struggle every day. There’s a dire need for funding, but we are making it. The good Lord keeps us floating from month to month.”

Booker said the school needs about $4 million a year, once everything is streamlined.

“We do have a plan in place to make it sustainable,” he said. “We have over $12 million worth of assets in buildings and land but we are cash broke.”

Among the seminary’s challenges are the lack of operational revenue and declining enrollment, some of which is a result of a decision made last year to pause the master’s degree program, Handy said.

ITC has been placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, although it maintains its accreditation.

It’s also still accredited with the Pittsburgh-based Association of Theological Schools and is considered to be in good standing, although there are some areas of improvement that ITC has been asked by the board of commissioners to address, said CEO Frank Yamada.

Enrollment has dropped drastically from a peak of 400 or so in the early 2000s, according to a previous interview with the prior administration. It dropped to 267 in 2019 and is about 60 today.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serves as chairman of the board of Turner Theological Seminary an ITC member, and is a former ITC trustee.

“ITC is in a very fragile position right now,” said Jackson, who attended Turner. “There are so many unanswered questions.”

Still, he thinks there is a future for ITC, it’s just a matter of determining what that future will look like.

“There’s some thought to it simply conferring doctorate degrees; there’s some thought to conferring doctorate and master’s degrees; and the other option is to close down altogether,” Jackson said. “I would hate to see ITC close.”

The institution is a consortium of four seminaries and a fellowship.

Its financial problems, which have long lingered under previous administrations, were made worse by the pandemic, which placed further strain on enrollment.

‘”If there was ever a time that the Christian community generally and Black churches in particular needed ITC it’s now,” said Charles Stith, a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania who earned his master’s of divinity degree from ITC’s Gammon School of Theology.

It’s not just ITC undergoing challenges.

“Schools are trying to figure out their business models because current business models are not sustainable,” said CEO Yamada. Some depend on endowments, others more on tuition.

Overall, for ATS schools enrollment has been pretty flat over the last 19-year period, although it depends to some extent on the denomination or religious tradition of the school. For instance, there’s been a slight increase at evangelical Protestant-affiliated seminaries. Others have declined or been flat.

Handy, a graduate of Lincoln University and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and the Laney Graduate School is the first woman to lead the historically Black ecumenical consortium of several seminaries. She has served more than two decades in various roles including two terms as vice president for academic and student affairs and provost. During her tenure, she also served as the Black Women in Church and Society Womanist Scholar.

A Chicago native, she is also a professor of religion and education, pastors Rize Community Church in Southwest Atlanta and is a commissioned teaching elder in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

ITC was founded in 1958 and its graduates include Judge Penny Brown Reynolds; the Rev. Gina Stewart, president of Lott Carey Foreign Mission Society; and the Rev. Jacquelyn Grant, who is a retired professor emeritus, author and a well-known thought leader on womanist theology.

ITC’s reputation drew Kamari McHenry, who wants to be a pastor and establish a nonprofit to alleviate poverty, to the school. The Detroit native is now enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.

Kamari McHenry poses for a portrait at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /


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“I didn’t have a choice,” said the 24-year-old. “I was basically forced, due to the fact that (ITC) had at that time suspended the master’s of divinity program. It was very short notice.”

“I went to ITC because it was ITC,” said the Rev. Shanan E. Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta and founding pastor of the Gathering Baptist Church in College Park.

“I hope under this new president ITC can think of some creative ways to bring people to the table and say ‘This is an emergency call.’ If we really care about the history of ITC and if we really think the model of ITC will have a relevant place in the future of theological education, then we must do all we can do keep it afloat.”