U.S. Dept. of Education Loan Center Web Site Re-Design = OUCH of Recognition

This is a screen shot of my financial obligations to the U.S. Dept. of Education, representing several semesters of the seminary education I completed in 1997.


Talking openly about clergy seminary debt is part of my commitment to challenging and changing outmoded, emotionally and professional repressive and destructive ministerial personae for the 21st century. Even the most generously paid among us probably spent the first years of service woefully under-compensated and accruing more debt.  I know I did.

The U.S. Department of Education just re-designed their web site and made it really easy for me to get a gander of just how much interest I am accruing day by day on each of my little loans. Let me tell you, that was a big ole OUCH. On the previous site all I  saw was how much I owed that month on my combined loans. I pay far above the stated amount in order to chop away at that principle, but … still ouch.

My fantasy is that some great admirer of my ministry will write a check to the U.S. Dept. of Education and I’ll click on that web site someday and it will say, “GIRL, SOMEONE PAID THAT THING FOR YOU!”

C’mon, you fantasize the same thing!







9 Replies to “U.S. Dept. of Education Loan Center Web Site Re-Design = OUCH of Recognition”

  1. Ouch, indeed! What I resonate with is “spent the first few years accruing more debt”. I was compensated OK for my first few years (though it took me most of my first year and a cold hard lesson from the IRS to learn my personal budget skills), but then a horrible job loss dumped me into a load of debt that I’m still paying off. (Did you know that a church can drop its assistant, throw her out of her home, and not pay her any severance at all, with no notice at all? Oh, yeah.)

    Basically, church work can financially dump on you in horrible, horrible ways. You have to be “wise as a serpent” and I think with seminarians we need to have lots of cold hard conversations about financing education and about budget management.

  2. By comparison I feel very lucky. My ministry training didn’t cost me a penny, and I was lucky enough to be on a generous scholarship for living costs too.

    But then British Unitarian ministers are paid considerably worse than American UU ministers. And we’re also the worst paid of any other British Christian denomination.

    Having said that we’re going much more towards an American system in higher education. It’s getting much more expensive and we’re beginning to wonder how much longer we can pay for ministry training.

    I wonder if there’s anything we can learn from the US about training ministers, and vice versa?

  3. IMHO this is not specifically a theological training issue – the whole financing of higher education is deeply flawed in the US – we should have been on our hind legs screaming about this and about health care lo these many years – (I do not think any denomination will be able to raise enough money to fully fund the education of its clergy unless we have sharply diminished expectations of how they will live during the education process – they will not have apartments, partners, children, travel, cars, or a plethora of individual connections to the wider world i.e. cell, internet, cable and they will work most of the time at least 1/2 time while studying and note I am not suggesting this as necessarily desirable ) – funding of higher education in this country is sharply skewed to sports, grandiose facilities and high administrative salaries – the same is true of health care where many hospitals, if not most, would make a New York law firm jealous of their lobbies and reception areas and where CEOs of hospitals and their related labs etc. make unconscionable amounts of money – all this to say – it’s a larger issue in society and not one that institutions like denominations are going to be able to address on their own

  4. I agree with Kathleen; our system of funding higher ed in the US is broken. For comparison, my husband graduated in 1999 with two engineering degrees. He (we) pay less than $100 a month for all of his school loans, which is very doable on his good salary as an engineer. Nowadays, one hears stories of the photography major working as a photo processor while paying off her $100k loan.

    Part of the problem is the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. My sister’s, who was 4 years behind me in school, tuition increased 40% while she was in school (and she graduated in 4 years). Something is seriously wrong. It shouldn’t be that only the very rich should be able to afford to pay for school.

  5. Debt is a definite problem, and it was building when I was in seminary (2000-2004). I ended up choosing a school based largely on cost. Ultimately it became a choice between the Ecumenical Theologial Seminary (Detroit, MI) and the Earlham School of Religion (Richmond, IN). I chose ESR. And I have not regretted it. Tuition was low, and they were generous with grants. I graduated with only $3000 in loans. This low debt load has been a God-send, since most of my ministries have been low-paid, bi-vocational ministries in rural churches or in religious education.

  6. It is one thing to take on large amounts of student debt in medicine or law or engineering, where there is a reasonable expectation of a good paying job. It is quite another to take on such debt to prepare for a career that frequently involves low pay and underemployment.

    I do not want the pool of future ministers limited to the rich and those dedicated enough endure the deprivations Kathleen describes above.

    There must be a less expensive way to insure ministers get the education and training they need, and if not, we need to make one. Yesterday.

  7. To begin to unravel this problem we need to decide if the funding is the problem? Would we still value the present mode of seminary education if more church members were willing to donate towards it? Or is the mode of education the problem? Is the seminary model inherently, economically inefficient? I am inclined to lean towards funding as the problem. Perhaps we in congregations should be ponying up the dough, if we say we value educated teachers, preachers, and care givers.

  8. As a current seminarian, I thank you all for your kind words! I had been working in higher education for five years before starting seminary, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that’s why we decided not to put it off any more. My husband and I made the choice for me to quit my job and attend school full time, so I am looking down the barrel of three years of significant loans.

    I was accepted at Harvard and Andover Newton, and my choice was significantly influenced by the financial support I received from ANTS; Harvard had accepted me and given me need-based financial aid, but without any scholarships, it was still significantly more expensive. It felt like a catty way to reject me– ‘Sure, you can come to Harvard, if you can pay our astronomical tuition rates.’ I’m proud I got in to Harvard, but I am happy I’m at Andover Newton; I can still take courses at Harvard, and borrow from the library, even if my degree won’t have the HDS seal.

    My husband is in school to get his PhD in chemistry, and we are aware that our lives may have to revolve around our student loans for a while. We won’t have a mortgage, but we will have the equivalent in student loans. While my husband can expect to make more money than I will, he probably will not be able to go directly into teaching like he had hoped. After I get my degree, I may have to go back to higher education or similar secular work to find a sufficient salary. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay home with children as I had hoped. Things are different, with this level of debt.

    PB, if you find that Student Loan Fairy, please send them our way!

  9. I have about $50,000 in student loans from my M.Div degree at HDS. It sucks. It sucks big-time.

    But, on the bright side/fantasy side, I actually know a minister whose congregation DID pay off his student loans! In full! As a “thank you” bonus! So let the fantasy live. 🙂

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