Friday, October 12, 2012

Are students borrowing to attend SBC seminaries?

The business of student debt is troublesome to many, including Albert Mohler president of our flagship school, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As college debt soars, grads realizing their future is at stake is Baptist Press' story of yesterday on the matter.

"Go to war on student debt."

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, voiced the exhortation during the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee in mid-September.
What is not said in the BP article is exactly how Southern Seminary looks at their own students borrowing. I like it that Mohler is concerned. The article would have done better to have examined some SBTS students and let them tell their story, or lack thereof, of debt.

Do many SBC seminary students arrive with undergraduate debt?

Do our seminaries assist students in obtaining loans to pay for their seminary, grad or undergrad, education?

Do they discourage it but accept it anyway?

Do our two mission boards have policies against appointment of church planters and other workers who have a certain level of student loans?

Do seminary grads hit the pastoral or other ministry fields with considerable student debt?

I do not know the answers to these questions but am curious. I have been told that Danny Akin at Southeastern highly discourages students from borrowing to pay for SEBTS expenses.

Most seminary graduates will leave with their degree not having enhanced their earning potential by much if at all and, regardless of ambition, most who enter the pastoral ministry will pastor single staff churches for their entire career. Add to that the reality that many SBC churches are already marginal or sub-marginal for full time staff and the trends do not look good for any improvement.


One wonders where this is going...anyone know?




12 comments:

Jared Moore said...

William, they discourage it, but they accept it.

Thanks to the cooperative program, we've been able to pay for an M.Div. and a ThM without going into debt at SBTS.

SBTS allows you to pay for a semester in 4 payments during the semester. Also, in the PhD program, they require a $1,000 down payment, and then they'll allow you to divide the rest of the program price up into 48 payments.

With help from the cooperative program, the payment plan at SBTS, a few small scholarships from the TN Baptist Foundation, and doing without, I should graduate in May 2013 without any student debt. It frees me to minister to churches who cannot afford to pay someone in light of their degree(s). I appreciate SBTS' help. My family and church appreciate it as well.

William Thornton said...

Good for you. That sounds like a wise approach.

Tommy Rucker said...

I made it through 5 years of undergrad plus 4 years of MDiv work at SBTS with no debt, graduating in 2005. But I was a non-traditional student (read that second-career, older guy).
I fear that those who are coming out of most colleges, even our SBC schools, have tremendous college debt. My son attended one semester (that's all he could afford) at Union University in TN, and the cost was astronomical.
I could offer a few suggestions for dealing with the problem, but most people wouldn't like what I have to say.

Anonymous said...

William,

I graduated when school was less expensive and attended a church in Dallas which had a scholarship fund to help students with their school costs. I graduated debt free (PTL). My son went one semester to LeTourneau and he just finished paying off his loan. He chose to join the coast guard after the reality of the cost hit him. Now that he has been in the CG for 9 years and taken as many classes as he can free. He has decided to make it a 20 year career.

Smart choice and school will still be available when he is out.

It seems we have a generation coming up that is clueless to the real cost of living and used to a certain level of lifestyle which they are not going to give up.

I am not sure what the answer is but debt of any kind is a burden. The less I must carry the better off I am.

Jon Estes

Kevin Sanders said...

I was able to finish my MDiv at NOBTS without debt. I was single at the time and had some help from my family for tuition.

I started at the extension center but did my last semester on campus. Money problems seemed more common on campus since those students usually didn't have full-time jobs. That's just an observation, but it is another reason I like the extension center model.

Dave Miller said...

At the recent Executive Committee meeting, one of the entity heads commented on the debt issue and said is was one of the most significant issues we need to deal with.

He says many student graduate with so much debt they cannot afford to go to pastorates that pay less than stellar wages, or plant churches, or such.

Tom J said...

Plodder-I'd be happy to share my story with you sometime of high student loan debt accumulated during my time at SBTS and how I was unable to repay it as the pastor of a small congregation.

David Quinn said...

Though he and others may be able to point to the seminary as a viable option for completing a theological education without incurring debt, we found that both the seminary and Boyce college provide avenues for students to take out loans to attend the school. You may read the response from Eternity Bible College here http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/2012/10/12/college-presidents-need-to-fight-student-debt/

Anonymous said...

One thing I did not mention in my previous post was that the cost of seminary when I attended (1993 graduate of SEBTS) was a 500.00 matriculation fee and then the cost of my books.

Things changed when I was there and those who did not come in under the catalog I did began paying hourly fees.

We just sent a young family to SEBTS. He is working a 40 hour a week job and taking 9 hours. He is doing fine and is praying he can keep the load at school and work. His wife stays home with their autistic son. Work for her is not going to happen.

Our church paid his full first semester. Some of the things I did not know was the "required" week of stuff for new students with a cost to that (I think it was 500.00).

I wish the convention could find a way for those in the SBC and who remain in the SBC to have an affordable degree. I'm 52 and would love to start doctoral work but I cannot afford it. I refuse to do the debt thing, learned the hard way how it cripples life.

Jon Estes

Anonymous said...

One thing I did not mention in my previous post was that the cost of seminary when I attended (1993 graduate of SEBTS) was a 500.00 matriculation fee and then the cost of my books.

Things changed when I was there and those who did not come in under the catalog I did began paying hourly fees.

We just sent a young family to SEBTS. He is working a 40 hour a week job and taking 9 hours. He is doing fine and is praying he can keep the load at school and work. His wife stays home with their autistic son. Work for her is not going to happen.

Our church paid his full first semester. Some of the things I did not know was the "required" week of stuff for new students with a cost to that (I think it was 500.00).

I wish the convention could find a way for those in the SBC and who remain in the SBC to have an affordable degree. I'm 52 and would love to start doctoral work but I cannot afford it. I refuse to do the debt thing, learned the hard way how it cripples life.

Jon Estes

Anonymous said...

Glad to see this discussion. Student loans have become uniquely harsh for all students. Most schools/faculty are very reluctant to discuss it openly and honestly however. Here is a summary of the general problem if interested;

http://www.studentloanjustice.org/argument.htm

Regards,

Alan

Anonymous said...

Seminary costs certainly have increased, but there are many other factors as well. I completed MDIV and DMIN without any student debt. Worked full time, wife and child, and served as a bivocational pastor of a small church 2 1/2 hours from seminary. Recently I have learned that we have some (no empirical data) students who choose not to work full time and apply for government assistance (food stamps, etc.). Graduate school is difficult, but I believe part of the reason for the many "challenges" is that they serve as a tool God uses to shape His ministers.

I am concerned about students leaving school with large debt, but I also think many students are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary. The seminary is not responsible for the student's financial choices.