The Association of Religion Data archives is reporting that seminarians own a huge slice of the $1 trillion student debt pie. The Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Theological Seminary has found graduating seminarians who have $70,000 to $80,000 in debt “no longer unusual.”
Says author David Briggs:
Auburn researchers have noticed a disturbing trend in tracking seminary student debt in three nationwide surveys since the early 1990s, when the problem was found to be significant for just a relatively small proportion of students.
In 1991, more than half of master of divinity graduates had not borrowed for their seminary education, the study found. The average level of debt for borrowers was $11,000, or $14,450 when adjusted for inflation to comparable 2001 figures. Only 1 percent of graduates borrowed more than $30,000.
By 2001, only 37 percent of master of divinity graduates had no theological school debt. The average level of debt for borrowers was $25,000, and more than one in five graduates borrowed more than $30,000.
Data from the 2011 survey is still being analyzed, but the results indicate how extensive the issue has become, with more students borrowing and an “alarming” rise in debt levels, Miller said.
In its own ongoing study, researchers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are also finding student debt is becoming an increasing problem at its seminaries.
It is a two-sided problem, denominational officials say, reflecting both the debt acquired to become a minister and the ability to pay it back after graduation.
And the two sides increasingly are not adding up.
Is this a problem? How is this affecting graduates looking for a church? How does this affect churches with tightening budgets? Can they afford a pastor with $1,000 a month in student loan payments?