Seminary Debt – Two Cent Tuesday

For the past several months I have been “winging” it with our finances. This was somewhat intentional since we’ve been in a crazy transitional period and tracking everything was just too complicated at the time. Rather than actually look at our budget, where we’re spending, how much we’re spending, and what we’re spending on, I’ve been going with my gut feelings on how we’re doing financially.

The other day I decided to get back to our budget and, well, it wasn’t pretty. We’ve now got a little bit of debt because of some of our seminary related decisions. This got me thinking about some of the stats I read from the Association of Theological Schools. Only 43% of seminary students in 2007 graduated with NO seminary debt.

Debt stinks… so, what about you… where is your debt-o-meter currently hovering?



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Ryan Burns
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  • I work in an admissions office and so have looked at this issue quite a bit. The other side of this is the educational debt that students bring into seminary. Last year about 25% of students entering ATS seminaries had $15,000 or more of undergraduate debt. In my experience, usually it’s the folks who enter with debt who incur even more while they’re in school. People who enter with zero are often a lot more hesitant to take out a bunch. When you put the two numbers (entering debt and exiting debt) together, that makes for a pretty frightening picture, one which really limits where grads can go. A lot of smaller churches may be left pastor-less because they can’t afford to pay recent seminary grads enough to cover their loan payments. And these grads may go a lot longer in the placement process since they need a higher starting salary.

    One way that I recommend to offset this is that students try to get part-time jobs that have benefits other than wages such as health insurance or tuition reimbursement. Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Borders are three that I encourage folks toward.


  • because i already have debt from undergrad, i made a vow to go through seminary only as fast as i could pay for it. so it means i go slower than most students, but i think it is worth it because it isn’t like most pastors are making a load of money to pay off debt.

Written by Ryan Burns