Educational Debt Incurred at Seminary

count.jpgI was reading the results from survey conducted by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) this evening and was fascinated by some of the findings. The survey was conducted on graduating students from member schools of the ATS and included 5,113 graduates representing 130 member schools (so, yeah, a good sampling).

Over the next week I hope to post some of the stats that came out of the study. Don’t worry, I know we’re all busy seminarians, so I’ll break it down into bite sized nuggets.

Also, I’d like to say that this information I’ll post from this survey is pretty important to think through, especially if you are considering or just starting seminary. We have a chance to see and hear what people who are finishing this journey have to say… we’d be wise to listen.

Tonight’s post is on the stats concerning Educational Debt Incurred at Seminary. Out of the 5,113 graduating respondents, these are the percentages for the amount of educational debt they incurred while in seminary.

46.4% – None
11.1 % – Less than $10,000
13.2% – $10,000 to $19,999
9.9% – $20,000 to $29,999
7.6% – $30,000 to $39,999
11.7% – More than $40,000

Two observations:

  1. WOW! Almost 50% graduated with NO debt. THAT is great.
  2. WOW! Almost 20% graduated with $30,000 + in debt. THAT is not great.

With the average Senior Pastor salary paying about $37,000 for pastors fresh out of seminary… $30K in debt is a BIG deal. Now, I’m not throwing stones at anyone who has a loan or debt (I have some). But you must be aware that vocational ministry is not a lavish position. Incurring large amounts of debt in seminary will add a huge amount of stress to a very stressful job… and if you don’t think being a pastor is stressful… then go talk to one.

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Ryan Burns
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  • Another part of the equation may be considering how much debt you incurred during your undergraduate studies. If you had $20,000 in debt from your undergraduate and you end up with $30,000 in debt from seminary, that totals up to $50,000, which will make for some pretty large student loan payments, which may be difficult to keep up with on the average pastor / missionary salary. Speaking out of my own experience, I’d strongly encourage seminarians to find ways to complete their education with as little debt as possible. That’s what I’m attempting to do as I’m completing my masters through the virtual program at RTS. My employer has agreed to let me use my tuition reimbursement benefit. I’m also trying to find other scholarships and grants that may be of assistance. It may be worthwhile for each of us to get to know the people in the financial aid office as they may have the inside scoop on that sort of thing. The final thing each of use will need in order to find the funds to pay for seminary is prayer, prayer and more prayer. God can provide in ways we never would have comprehended. Have a blessed weekend!


  • Good point Shaun,

    I should have mentioned that only 22% of the students brought $10,000+ of prior educational debt. Out of that 22% about half had less than $20K of debt. None the less, that does put a small percentage into the category you’re talking about.

    Now, I guess the real stat to compare this with is how many of these graduates are actually going into parish ministry… But I’ll save that post for another day.

  • These figures don’t mean much without context.
    Although the percentage for $30k and higher debt doesn’t look too bad, about 19%, put that in context of the fact that in 1991 the percentage of graduates that had $30k or higher was 1%.

    It is interesting to see what current numbers are, but it is even more interesting to contextualize it and see what the trends are. And it seems the trend is increasing debt.

  • Larry, wow, where’d you pull that stat from? I also, not being a math guy, wonder how that compares when inflation gets thrown in. Surely seminary was cheaper 17 years ago… wow… ’91 was 17 years ago.

  • I actually don’t remember the source that i got the 1991 number from, but it was a study done to see where seminary graduates stood on their debt.

    I work in the marketing research field and know first hand how important it is to contextualize data.

    It would be interesting to see graduation debt by income levels, which i didn’t see in the survey results. I have a suspicion that most graduating without debt were from higher income categories, and that would perhaps show a problem of seminaries being more geared for the financially elite and more restrictive for the poor (even with grants). It’s hard to say without that data, but when speaking of $$ issues income can play a big part of it.

    It’s also interesting to note that a larger # graduated more liberal in their theology than more conservative (27.6% versus 15.1%). That makes me wonder exactly which schools took part in the survey.

  • Thankfully my wife and I didn’t bring any undergraduate debt when we started at Multnomah. We finished Multnomah with no debt and had student loans for (I think) a year or two at Western; thing is it took me 10 years to finish doing the pay as you go plan.

Written by Ryan Burns