Should Seminarians be forbidden Student Loans?

My friend Bill blogged yesterday about a seminary that has changed their policy about student loans. Here is their statement about it:
“It is the formal position of City Seminary of Sacramento to forbid students to incur debt for the purpose of paying tuition expenses. While those embarking upon secular business careers may reasonably expect to repay student debt out of future earnings growth, such an expectation is inappropriate for a graduate who may well be called upon to serve in a poor or even poverty-stricken field of ministry. In keeping with this conviction, the Board of Governors endeavors to provide sufficient tuition scholarship aid so that no qualified student is denied a theological education for financial reasons.”
I am not sure how to respond. My first reaction is to cheer such a decision. I do wonder how student debt drives ministers to make foolish decisions just to make ends meet.


  1. I cheer the decision too! If the school truly believes in what they teach and the student truly believes his or her calling money should not get in the way of that calling.

  2. I agree that ministers and churches should not be saddled with having to repay large loans, if it can be avoided. If it does not majorly hinder qualified people from obtaining a theological education I am in favor of it.

  3. So interesting that we all basically agree with this stand but so few (are there any?) other seminaries and Christian universities have such a policy. I wonder how different our Christian universities really are?

  4. I'm a bit late to the game (still catching up on all my blog reading) and as someone who went to seminary, and had to incur some debt, I obviously have a few things to say on this issue.

    Most seminaries are incredibly expensive (my per credit tuition was twice was City Seminary's is) so student loan debt is required unless you've had 20 years to save up. And now that I've been out for 3 years, I will say that it's been tough to make ends meet on the salary I make due to the debt I have from that experience. So it's a total conundrum.

    That said, where I went to seminary offered me the best scholarship of any of the other schools I considered, and wasn't even the most expensive school I considered. This is an issue of how much seminaries charge and how that dole out their scholarship money. I got a half-tuition scholarship from Covenant based on grades in undergrad and based on ministry leadership experience I developed in the years between undergrad and seminary. All the other school I looked at based scholarships money on the previous year's salary (i.e. financial need) and that's it. I seriously considered quitting my job and moving in with my family for a year, then reapplying so I could get more assistance from the school.

    So this is about how much the institution charge and how they provide scholarships. This is all based on the generous donations of the alumni.

    I was also advised early on in my search that I should consider getting a master's degree from a Christina university rather than a seminary degree because it cost less. But a seminary degree holds a certain weight in the eyes of churches, as well as affects what kind of churches you can work for in the first place. Interestingly, I've look at the doctorate program at Grand Canyon university in Phoenix and the tuition is even more than it was for me in seminary, and it's a university.

    I agree with the stand ONLY IF the schools make their classes affordable. 90% of seminary tuition is simply not. And that doesn't even include all the money you need to live while in school. I had three part-time jobs, went to school full-time, and I was only able to barely covered my rent each month. Never mind money for food, phone bills, gas, books, clothing, Christmas gifts, etc. (Plus a $3500 car repair bill that happened my last year there.) You would have to have a LOT of money saved up (or be independently wealthy) to survive seminary, even with affordable tuition, without having any debt at the end of it all. I'm simply stating the reality of my own experience. But I also did my research and knew what some of this reality would be. And spend years in prayer making sure this was what God wanted for my life. I didn't go into this debt-riddled experience without being sure that God has a plan and that it would somehow work out.

    I've been blessed recently with money that allowed 65% of my student loan debt to be paid off just three after graduating. God has provided for me and now I have a much lower burden than I did before. For me, this money was the epitome of undeserved favor. And has made me more and more sure of his plan for my life.

    1. Great reality check Stephanie!! Here is an excerpt from something that speaks to this issue:

      In the early 1990s, the rules were changed for student loans, making them much more readily available for college and seminary students. Enter easy money, and student indebtedness soared. Since the rules haven’t changed, the phenomenon of student debt is likely to persist, if not increase. Why didn’t or why couldn’t seminaries do something about this? Here the patterns of income in denominations play a critical role. Beginning in the 1950s, congregations gradually and steadily allocated more of their income for congregational needs at the expense of denominational programs. Seminaries that once received more than 50 per cent of their income through denominational channels saw that income flow reduced to less than 10 percent in 40 years or less. The seminaries that prospered changed their strategies to raise more of their money directly from congregations and especially individuals and to build their own endowments. This has been a revolutionary change in the funding of American theological education, with profound questions for the nature of their identities and the constituencies they serve. Seminaries and their students were caught in a perfect storm — declining denominational revenue and the easy availability of borrowed money. The result: seminary student indebtedness and a church burdened by its indebted leaders.

    2. Here are some thought sabout smart student debt from Clark Howard:


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