School debt forces new clergy to sacrifice even more

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A 2005 study by Auburn Theological Seminary in New York shows that between 1991 and 2001, the average student loan debt for new pastors more than doubled to $25,018, from $11,043. If the trend continues, by 2011 about 84 percent of seminary students will have to borrow to finance their education, with an average loan burden of more than $54,000, the Auburn study showed.

In its own survey of seminarian students last year, the Episcopal Church found that students halfway through their training already had amassed an average of $42,874 in debts — on track to graduate owing well over $50,000. Meanwhile, the median compensation package for new Episcopal clergy hovers at $44,500 per year, a starting salary that's considerably higher than in many other denominations.

"Financial planners say that if you graduate from school with a $36,000 debt, you should have an income of $60,000 in order to handle your finances and move forward," said John Mittman, executive director of the Society for the Increase of the Ministry, an Episcopal office that has been studying seminarian debt.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* TheologySeminary / Theological Education

4 Comments
Posted June 29, 2007 at 12:24 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Anglicanum wrote:

I amassed a massive amount of debt in seminary, all to get a degree I can no longer use (I left ECUSA, and the priesthood, after Gene Robinson).  There’s no way I’ll ever pay it off.  I’m really not qualified to do anything else, because I have a liberal arts degree for my Bachelors, then I left college and went straight to seminary.  My M.Div. doesn’t open too many other occupational doors, I can tell you that.  I’m strangely over-qualified to get hired doing minimum wage work (I thought anyone could work at McDonalds or 7-11, but found out differently) ... but I’m also under-qualified to teach, since I don’t have an education degree or a doctorate.  I’ve finally landed at a community college, teaching philosophy and world religions.  Doesn’t pay well at all, but it’s the only thing I can find.  Puts dinner on the table, if little else.

I’ve considered suing the Episcopal Church for breach of contract, since I amassed the debt believing that I was going to be doing a certain job (preaching and teaching Christianity) which the work environment in my very liberal diocese later made impossible.  But it would be laughed out of court, I’m sure.  Still, if anyone would like to give to the Anglicanum Seminary Debt Relief Fund, just write me off-line.  :+)

Oh well, sorry to complain.

Anglicanum

June 29, 1:45 pm | [comment link]
2. DaveW wrote:

Anglicanum,
You’re singing a very familiar tune.  According to John Mittman and “financial planners”, I should be making at least $180,000 now.  Guess what?  I’m not!  It’s extremely difficult to make ends meet for a family of four on $20,000 a year, even though we live in a rectory.

I have to laugh every time my seminary sends an appeal letter asking for donations.  They have started a fund to help incoming seminarians pay for their education.  Funny thing is, this new program is not retroactive.  The letters always say, “seminarians can expect to leave seminary with $50,000 in student loan debt or more. ”  I want to write back and say, “yeah, I’m one of them!  And you come to me asking for money!”

June 29, 2:55 pm | [comment link]
3. HowardRGiles+ wrote:

With benefits, my yearly compensation is roughly equal to what I originally owed on my school debt.  I prayed about it before I left for seminary, during seminary and now I am glad to be able to write the check!  At 2% interest it is probably the best debt that I carry!

There is a shortage of clergy in network diocese as well as continuing churches, so it seems that anyone qualified should be able to preach the Gospel. 

The problem with subsidizing seminary education is that people change their minds, change churches, discover they were not called to ministry and a host of other situations that leave the diocese, national church, etc with the bill and no personnel to show for it. 

My only regret is that my seminary ignored the ancient and modern primary sources that would help me to engage the culture with a vibrant Christian worldview.

Now that would have been worth 60k.

June 29, 7:25 pm | [comment link]
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