Is Christian vocation worth $75,000 in student loans?

December 7th, 2015

Facebook has its downsides (cat memes, really accurate personality tests based on favorite movie quotes), but one of the things I appreciate about it is that I can see what is interesting to friends and family. I recently came across a shared post from a friend trying to help a recent college graduate pursue a post-college vocation. The graduate is a Catholic woman who wants to be a nun and dedicate her life to serving Jesus through that calling.

But here’s the catch. She and her parents have $75,000 in college loans and she can’t join the order until those are paid for. And that is after she had a full-tuition scholarship to her private school in an area with a relatively low cost of living. Her parents have three other children to put through school so she says they can’t afford to take on paying off everything. She is using a crowdfunding site to raise the $75,000 from others so that she can start on the path this fall to becoming a nun.

When I saw this post, I was scratching my head for some time asking “Why?” about so many of her and her family’s decisions. Here is the bottom line. Her outrageous student loans (and yes, they are outrageous) are getting in the way of her serving God in a way she believes she is called to. Her parents enabled this to happen. And she is not the only young graduate facing this problem.

Parents, let’s talk for a moment about things that lie in the middle. The median salary for new college graduates $45,478. The average college debt for the class of 2015 is $35,000 and it’s the most indebted class ever. Using a federal loan repayment calculator to determine the monthly payment required for that size debt, the average graduate will pay $354 a month for 10 years on that debt with a starting monthly take home pay of about $3,000.

Now just imagine the young Christian who wants to go into ministry, serve in missions abroad or at home, or work with a nonprofit serving low-income communities. How many can’t pursue those worthy yet financially non-lucrative vocations because they are in debt up to their eyeballs and they can’t earn enough to cover their monthly expenses? Could this be your child?

Do we see the problem?

I could say a lot about the systemic problems with the costs of higher education, but let’s talk about what you can control as a parent. You determine how much you can save for your child’s college education. You are the adult responsible for setting clear expectations about what is affordable and what is not for a college education. You need to communicate to your child how much you will pay for (if anything) and how much he will be responsible for paying (if anything). You influence which schools your child applies to and decides to attend. You set the rules and expectations for receiving any parental financial support, such as requiring that your child work a part-time job during school and a full-time job in the summer.

So what’s a parent to do?

Before you can help your child, you must help yourself first. Get a handle on what your own financial situation is first and be honest with yourself about what you can afford to pay for without a loan. What have you saved that is earmarked for college? What can you cash flow?

Set clear limits. Your child shouldn’t be surprised when they get acceptance letters from $40,000 a year schools and you say you can only pay for $10,000 a year. Start having conversations freshman year about what you plan to contribute to tuition and living expenses each year, and what you expect to see in return for financial support. Most scholarship programs require a minimum GPA — you can expect the same and then some!

Get creative. Focus on earning college credits while in high school. Attend a community college for a year or two that will transfer credits directly to a four year institution and has a high transfer rate. Offer to let your child live at home rent-free if the school is close by. Encourage your child to take as many credits as possible if there is a flat-rate tuition plan and that will shorten the number of semesters in school. Get a part-time job during the school year!

If you set the right expectations about what is affordable and what is not, where your wallet ends and your child’s begins, then your family should not end up with $75,000 in student loans. Your child should be financially free to pursue a vocation that is in service to God and a good use of their education, skills and gifts.

Lindsey Foster Stringer blogs at and is the author of Mortgage Free in 3.

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