Seminary students carrying huge amounts of student debt after graduation

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.

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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?

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Marty,
    I have a friend in the waning throws of a PhD. He believes the gross debt incurred by students is akin to indentured servitude. For instance, he had a friend who hoped to be a lawyer whose aim would be to work in the interest of homeless citizens. After law school he knew of no non-profit or other institution for whom he could work and manage his debt. He will be delaying his passion to pay his debt.

    We have a young man who earned his way into MIT. In order to help pay for his education he signed on with a company in order to lessen his indebtedness. Now a graduate he will work a minimum of three years for said company before he could pursue any other options that might better align with his vision and dreams.

    I realize these are instances where both students chose an education, and the particular vocation to boot. But, increasingly we are learning that the better paying jobs will fall to those with more than a B.A. or B.S. This means debt mounts above and beyond undergraduate work.

    Yes, it is a problem.

    • Marty Duren

      “Indentured servitude” is an unfortunately accurate to describe it. My son dropped out of college rather than accumulate the debt in an environment that is not friendly to job seekers anyway.

  • I’m paying for my theological degree out of pocket, because I love Jesus and listen to Dave Ramsey.

    • Marty Duren

      Very nice. If you don’t mind sharing how long will it take to finish your degree?

  • Chris

    I accumulated debt for my undergrad. PTL I paid it off in 2 years. When I went to Seminary, I budgeted a 5 year plan and stuck to it. Graduated debt free and with the salary most churches I have ministered at it was a good thing. The company I ran prior to ministry rewarded my labor double of that of a church staffer. I do think it is time for a full-orb biblical treatment of finances both in the church and from the seminaries.

    • Marty Duren

      Good word, Chris.