According to a recent article on forbes.com, millenials are taking an “out of sight, out of mind” approach when it comes to educational debt. Studies cited in the article point out that this generation of graduates is unwilling to sacrifice lifestyle to pay off student loans faster. Living an austere life holds no appeal for those who face 10-20 years of repayment. The long-term costs and consequences of borrowing may simply be too overwhelming, leading many to choose daily coffee shop visits, entertainment options, and travel experiences even if the choices are financially irresponsible.
The findings featured in the Forbes article are no surprise to us at Central. We see students making similar financial decisions every term when the student loan applications are processed. Students already encumbered by undergrad loans continue to borrow for seminary and to live like the debts do not have to be repaid anytime soon. We see a lot of fancy coffee drink cups and takeout containers; very few of our students drive clunkers. At the surface level, these choices appear unwise. One would think they would know better.
And they do “know” better. Central’s 2014 Financial Literacy Survey results indicate that our students are financially literate to a degree. Students scored on average 73% on the test, indicating basic literacy; this mean score was actually the threshold for “passing” as financially literate. However, financial knowledge does not necessarily translate to sound financial decision-making. We are challenged by this realization, and we are committed to equipping our students with not only tools but also support as they make important decisions that will affect their financial futures.
Since early 2014, Central has been engaged in an effort to address the economic challenges facing future ministers through an Economics of Ministry Project funded by the Lilly Endowment. We are currently poised to take what we’ve learned and observed over the last three years and to embed sustainable practices into our seminary’s student services and programming.
Plans are in the works to increase comprehensive student services to include financial and vocational coaching, available for all students. Central hopes that shifting from a procedural process for addressing educational borrowing to a highly relational process will over time empower and encourage our students to make sound financial decisions. Our hope, as always, is to prepare leaders who are wholly formed and ably equipped to last in their chosen ministry fields.
Perhaps in just a few short years, our students’ thinking and habits will shift to keeping their loans “in mind” and the end of repayment “in sight” as they seek to faithfully live out their calls in the church and in the world.