Student loan debt (still) hindering vocations?

Well, not really; only about 10% of them.

Georgetown’s CARA released a report entitled “New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life: The Profession Class of 2013.” Though the USCCB news release, and several similar stories, focus on the student loan debt issue in its headline, the single page of the report (p.15) dedicated to educational debt actually suggests a relatively minor delay:

One in ten responding religious (10 percent) report that educational debt delayed their application for entrance to the religious institute…

Most responding religious of the Profession Class of 2013 report that educational debt did not delay their application for entrance. Among those that were delayed by educational debt, however, the average delay was two years.

On average, responding religious had $31,100 in educational debt at the time they first applied for entrance to their religious institute. Men and women were about the same in the amount of educational debt they reported.

None of the brothers reported receiving assistance in paying down their educational debt prior to entering their religious institute. Among women religious, several reported assistance

I was reminded of my inaugural appearance on the CV blog, wherein I hoped to bring some balance to the frequent suggestions that student loan rates need to be low to combat educational debt. I proffered that college costs increase because of financial aid availability, and that an argument can be made for the sinfulness of low interest rates along with the more familiar sinfulness of high interest rates. Thinking that we can reduce the burden of educational debt by lowering student loan rates is akin to thinking we can reduce the burden of credit card debt by lowering credit card interest rates: that “solution” may be a cosmetic fix, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
Most of higher education is burdened by bureaucratic bloat which raises costs, and revenue/tuition that is paid only indirectly by students. Most dollars flowing to schools today come not from today’s students but from today’s taxpayers. We all tend to overspend when we spend tomorrow’s dollars rather than today’s.

If we want to get serious about the educational debt problem, to promote vocations or for some other purpose, let’s push to 1) keep student loan rates from being artificially low, and 2)  instill some business sense among college administrators. Perhaps doing so will encourage those future seminarians or religious to appreciate the importance of business sense.


Categories:Church News Education Vocations

  • Tara

    I think what is important to keep in mind is that this study reveals 10% of those religious who professed perpetual/final vows in 2013 were hindered by their student loans. That means these are religious who entered formation an average of six – eight years ago. Since then, other studies have shown this is a growing problem and we are losing vocations because of student loans – in fact, currently one out of three applicants have significant student loans and seven out of ten religious communities have had to turn away inquirers in the last 10 years due to this problem. (See

    The study referenced in the above article also showed that 90% of the religious communities responding to the survey did not have any professions of perpetual vows – while there are no doubt many reasons for this, one question we can ask is this: how many vocations were lost because of student loans?

    I am currently an aspirant with The Laboure Society, and am so grateful for the prayers and support of the body of Christ to help deliver vocations like mine to formation. I started discerning after college, when God called me home to the Catholic Church. I’ve been working on this issue so I can enter formation as a cloistered Dominican nun since 2010.

    Since 2003, The Laboure Society has helped approximately 250 young men and women enter formation. There are 18 young men and women currently working with The Laboure Society – we have all discerned a vocation to the priesthood and religious life and have been accepted to enter formation, once our student loans are resolved (our stories are here: We take the responsibility of our student loans very seriously; but, without the prayers, support, and financial help from others who want to see more priestly and religious vocations delivered to the Church, no doubt our vocations, and many others like us, would be significantly delayed or lost completely.

  • Jesús

    “Serious suggestions have been made to us that communities in certain places, to the divine displeasure and injury of the neighbour, in violation of both divine and human law, approve of usury. By their statutes, sometimes confirmed by oath, they not only grant that usury may be demanded and paid, but deliberately compel debtors to pay it. By these statutes they impose heavy burdens on those claiming the return of usurious payments, employing also various pretexts and ingenious frauds to hinder the return. We, therefore, wishing to get rid of these pernicious practices, decree with the approval of the sacred council that all the magistrates, captains, rulers, consuls, judges, counsellors or any other officials of these communities who presume in the future to make, write or dictate such statutes, or knowingly decide that usury be paid or, if paid, that it be not fully and freely restored when claimed, incur the sentence of excommunication.” Council of Vienne, 1312.

  • Tee

    Because of the way that college debt can inhibit those with a sincere vocation to the priesthood or religious life, our family supports Mater Ecclesiae. This organization assumes payments on college debt for a limited number of applicants who have a demonstrated desire for a vocation and would be accepted by a congregation if it were not for college debt. If you are concerned about the need for more vocations, this is a proven way to support and increase them. We are committed supporters . Check it out at

  • Will

    My state has cut state aid to public colleges consideratably in the last 14 years. I do not agree that the student loan rate is the problem.

  • Caroline B

    Or try to help people discern earlier and combat the idea that everyone needs to go to college before doing anything else!

  • Robert

    As a seminarian, I remember being asked what my student debt situation was by the vocations office. So clearly, if you have too much debt you get turned away. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I can see both sides of the issue. And indeed, it’s an interesting issue. On one hand we want to promote the idea of an educated clergy, (And Religious). But we also want to promote all vocations, even among those who wouldn’t normally be able to afford a college education without loans. I think it would be nice if the USCCB set up a fund, so that those vocations (men and women) who couldn’t normally afford a college education without incurring heavy debt, might have some assistance in this matter. Just a thought really.

    • Tim Shaughnessy

      I like it. A tangential point I was trying to make is that Church leaders might actually worsen the student debt problem by publicly supporting low loan rates.



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