Seminary Graduates in Record Debt, Study Finds

A large number of seminary graduates are dealing with overwhelming debt upon graduation, according to a new study by a research organization connected to Auburn Theological Seminary.

Many of these graduates are forced to moonlight at other jobs to make ends meet, found the Center for the Study of Theological Education.

The CSTE found that among 2011 graduates there was record debt, according to David Briggs of Presbyterian News Service.

"More than a quarter of students graduating in 2011 with a Master of Divinity degree had more than $40,000 in theological debt and 5 percent were more than $80,000 in the red," reported Briggs. "Many of these students discovered that not only they or their spouses had to moonlight to make ends meet, but some had to choose another job besides the ministry to pay the bills…"

While Auburn is affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA), the CSTE study noted similar trends among other Protestant denominations as well. CSTE's findings on the plight of seminary graduates regarding debt can be found in similar research within the United Methodist Church.

Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Office of Loans and Scholarships, told The Christian Post that "seminarian debt is a serious problem for the church and one that can't be addressed by seminaries alone."

"It has to be addressed by the whole denomination, undergraduate institutions, local churches, and the students themselves, as well as the seminaries," said Collinsworth.

"Our own survey of UMC seminaries last year found that an estimated 60 percent to 75 percent of candidates for ordained ministry in the UMC have educational debt averaging between $26,513 and $34,782."

Collinsworth also told CP that there was an "advisory group" that met last week to investigate the issue and will "make recommendations in a report to General Conference 2016."

Another finding in the CSTE study was that two-thirds of seminary graduates surveyed said they would have borrowed less money if they could have done it again.

Briggs reported that efforts to make seminary more affordable included the Lilly Endowment Inc. providing $12.3 million for 51 theological schools to aid the finances of both schools and students, reported Briggs.

"The grants will allow the schools among other activities to examine new models for financing theological education, explore ways to reduce the number of hours required for degrees, broaden sources of scholarships and financial aid and create programs to improve the financial literacy of students," wrote Briggs.

Collinsworth of UMC told CP about the efforts over the past few years by her denomination "to take steps to alleviate debt."

"In 2006, we used earnings from our student loans to endow a Special Seminary Scholarship Fund that provides scholarships for seminarians under age 30 who plan to be ordained in the UMC," said Collinsworth.

"Also, the UMC has a churchwide fund that raises money for seminaries and annual conferences (the local jurisdictions of the church). The Ministerial Education Fund sent $14.4 million in 2013 to the 13 United Methodist seminaries."

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