Forgive Us Our Debts: How Christian College Grads Pay the Price

Evangelical schools work to capture the real cost of student loans

“Year after year, more Americans are getting degrees, and more of them are relying on loans to pay for them. In the US today, 44 million borrowers owe a total of $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Students enrolled at private universities, including Christian colleges, are more likely to take out loans; three-fourths graduated with some debt last year.”

 

When Christian students view college as a part of their calling, they won’t let the cost get in the way.

For some, that means doubling down on savings, hustling for scholarships, or working their way through undergrad or seminary: whatever it takes to cover rising tuition bills. Others see robust federal loan packages as a godsend, allowing them to enroll at a Christian college.

Recent student loan trends have left some Christian college grads feeling the economic impact for decades. Meanwhile, financial counselors are desperate to improve financial understanding within a system that makes lending an easy default.

“I don’t feel swindled. I needed the nourishment I received from my professors and the community I found there,” said Ashley Abramson, who racked up $50,000 in private loan debt from three years at Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern–St. Paul). “But I’m still paying the price almost 10 years later, and it’s affecting my marriage and now, even my kids.”

Year after year, more Americans are getting degrees, and more of them are relying on loans to pay for them. In the US today, 44 million borrowers owe a total of $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Students enrolled at private universities, including Christian colleges, are more likely to take out loans; three-fourths graduated with some debt last year.

Most students with loans end up with around $30,000, and the amount can be a little less at schools belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), where tuition is higher on average than public institutions but lower than fellow private four-year schools.

The $30,000 amount results in monthly payments of a few hundred dollars, but the debt load can easily get out of hand due to compounding factors such as graduate school debt, spouse debt, deferment, unemployment, or low-paying ministry jobs. And things are exponentially worse for students taking out loan amounts on the higher end.

“How we’ll be able to afford a house and children is something we’re greatly concerned about,” said Danae Parker, who along with her husband has $129,000 in debt from Philadelphia Biblical University, now Cairn University.

Even with nearly $2,000 a month in student loan payments, the Parkers will still be paying off their undergrad education well into their 50s.

“Honestly, we frequently bemoan our choices to attend a private Christian college solely because of the financial hole it’s put us in,” said Parker, who works full-time as a nanny because it pays more than writing or social work, her major. Americans with student loan debt lag behind on measures of wealth accumulation, home ownership, and general economic well-being, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.

Yet, a strong desire to attend a Christian college can supersede financial concerns. Some parents encourage Christian education over cheaper public school options because of the value they put on faith-learning integration and an environment that upholds a Christian worldview. Or, students who come to Christ through youth ministry in high school may feel personally drawn to Christian schools, particularly those recommended by trusted church leaders.

“I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so attending Bible college felt priceless to me. I was young and stubborn and thought real Christians went to Christian college,” said Abramson, the Northwestern College grad. The school was her top pick since her youth group leader went there.

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