Higher Learning and Student Debt: Is it Worth It?

During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March,” including last week’s original live chat with Sandy Crozier. Today, I offer some personal thoughts and questions about student loan debt as we continue the faith and finances conversation, specifically this month about debt. 

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Before leaving the Pacific Northwest to study and complete my first graduate degree, I was a bit nervous about the potential student loan debt I was about to commit to. I shared my thoughts with my former economics professor when I saw him at my undergraduate school’s bookstore. He told me, “Timothy, it’s just money. It’s just money. It’s an investment.”

However, the increasing cost of higher education—and the debt students are taking on to complete degrees—are causing some to reconsider if the investment is really worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, 2015 US college graduates accumulated the highest average student loan debt in history, a base average of $35,000 per graduate school graduate and $23,000 per baccalaureate graduate. It is projected that 2016’s class will face an even higher total.

It is not unheard of for those earning professional degrees to graduate with six-figure student debt, including doctors, lawyers, and yes—clergy. Many institutions of higher learning—including seminaries—are trying to curb costs, but the numbers are daunting. With loan totals so high, it is mathematically possible that one might work their entire career and never do much more than pay off their student loan debt. A report by Goldman Sachs suggests avoiding “mediocre colleges”; steering away from lower-paying majors like arts, education, and psychology; and considering other forms besides college education to prepare for a vocation.

Nonetheless, my generation—the Millennials—have the highest percentage ever of college-educated persons, according to a White House study. In our household, my wife Allison and I hold 3 baccalaureate and 3 graduate degrees between us, and Allison is finishing her masters of divinity program this spring. We make our monthly payments, hope for some relief, and trust that in time, the costs will be worth it for our vocations and careers.

Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that “vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” As God’s people, I believe one pursues an education for opportunity and continued learning, and also to follow God’s calling or vocation. I believe that when one senses that they have gifts or passions for meeting the needs of the world, their neighborhood, or society, and when they most fully follow that call, it may lead to school or extended study. It is not always a call to become wealthy, sometimes far from it, especially if student loans are a part of the process. But if one is called, they are also called to trust that they will live in the abundance of God.

So when I think about my professor’s advice in the bookstore, I believe deeply that he was right. It hasn’t always been an easy path, but the investment has been and will continue to be worth it for me at least because it has led me to create connections, to learn, and to have experiences I couldn’t have dreamed about without the education I have been blessed to receive.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your debt—student and otherwise—check out the recording of the recent COMPASS Live Chat on managing debt led by Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director for the Free Methodist Church in Canada.

What has your experience been like with student loan debt? How do you live faithfully while taking it on, or working to pay it off?

timothy headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and focuses especially on the center’s COMPASS initiative focused on creating conversations and resources for faith and finances among younger Adults and Millennials. Timothy also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles and blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year from all of us at COMPASS! 2016 is going to be a year of continued, new, and exciting conversations. We’ll continue to explore faith, finances, and topics such as debt management, saving, thanksgiving, gratitude, and giving. We’ll also enter into new conversations about shared economies, alternate living situations, pooling resources, and even piecemealing income.

resolutionsTo kick off the year, during January COMPASS Team members and other Millennial guest bloggers will share resolutions, questions, and ideas for financial New Year’s resolutions. To start this month’s series on Financial New Year’s Resolutions, I figured that it would only be fair if I shared some of my own first.

I have to admit, I have never been enthusiastic about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I have made them and then not followed through:  I’ve just never really made them. I know that they are helpful for some people, but instead of resolutions, I am going to make a few promises to myself. When I promise something, I generally follow through.

  1. I Promise Myself that I Will Be Healthier

This might sound like a generic resolution, and to some degree maybe it is. But for me, this means more than just making sure I work out regularly. Being healthy also means allowing myself space to be most fully and healthy me, emotionally and mentally. 2015 was a wonderful year of growth and opportunity. My plate filled to the brim with great blessings and opportunities as I have piecemealed income and projects. This is exciting but also means that I end up working so many projects that I hardly ever get a full day off during the week. For my health, sanity, and productivity, I am promising myself that will change in 2016. This may mean occasionally saying no to a project that might have provided some extra financing, as well as to continue to make financial commitments for insurance, health care, and regular doctors’ visits. Being proactive and preventative is a promise for health- both physically but also financially.

  1. I Promise Myself that I Will Take Some Time to Breathe

Also related to health, I am starting the year with the promise to give myself a little more “me time” each day for reflection, prayer, moments of gratitude, and vocational restoration. A day off each week away from work and projects is helpful for me to be most productive, but taking a little time to reflect each day also enables me to be my best self whom God has created and called me to be. Without taking this time, I can give in to doubt and stress related to life and finances, while not taking the time to reflect and be grateful for all that God has done and continues to do.

  1. I Promise to include Creativity in My Life

I have found that writing and blogging is a way that I stay healthy and mentally charged. By carving out some time each day to write, I will also be giving myself a chance to reflect and see how I am doing and breathe without focusing on other projects and work that needs my attention. This time allows me to create and write, something that I believe I am called to do as part of my vocation and identity as a Child of God. When done with my blogging and “me time,” I will be even more focused, productive, and ready to dive back into my work for that day, and be able to get more done.

  1. I Promise to Continue to Budget and Save for a Honeymoon and Make it Happen
Happy New Year's from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington

Happy New Year’s from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington- being healthy by taking some time to enjoy it together.

My wife Allison and I have been married for nearly five and a half years now. This is the real confession moment: we have not yet gone on a honeymoon. Because of our vocations, studies, and other demands we moved and started seminary (following our faith calling for further education and preparation for ministry) right after getting married. In the meantime, we have created a few different financial savings account pockets, one of which is for our honeymoon. I am promising to myself that not only will we continue to save for this experience, but at least by the end of the year we will have made reservations to make it happen.

  1. I Promise to Give More

As a late 20-something, I know that my wife and I have a long and exciting life and journey ahead. I’m grateful for that, and that’s why we save as much as we do and budget regularly. This year I am promising to build off of that and continue to give more financially. We’re not “crazy wealthy,” but we’re not starving either. We have been more than able to find the ability to continue to pay off our student debt, give towards our faith community and causes we believe in, and save some. I am happy to say that in each year of marriage we have been able to incrementally increase our giving, and I promise that 2016 will continue this trend as we give more of what has been entrusted to our care.

These are five big promises, I admit. But I think that I can keep them. It might mean giving up an occasional early-morning or late-afternoon meeting for a walk or workout, or taking some time that might have been spent elsewhere to collect my thoughts and write some reflections. Overall though, I believe these decisions will make for a healthier, happy, and productive 2016.

What New Year’s resolutions are you making for yourself? What promises are you making to yourself?

Image Credit: Resolutions

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Why Do I Give Thanks?

20151110_141047This month the COMPASS blog is sharing Thanksgiving-themed reflections, especially those that dig deeper into thinking about why we give thanks.

It’s only fair that I should answer this question since I am inviting so many others to share their thoughts here with you. For me, my honest answer is simply, what else can I do?

I’m reminded of the themes of Thanksgiving found throughout scripture, such as this paraphrased passage from 2 Chronicles which has been used to shape a number of song and hymn lyrics on the subject:

Give thanks to the Lord, “For God is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (based on 2 Chronicles 5:13)

For me thanksgiving and gratitude are a response. I believe that the gifts of God which I have come to believe and understand through Jesus Christ – such as life, love, hope, promise, and reconciliation—are  just that: gifts. There is nothing I can do to earn them. There is nothing I can do to warrant them. Rather, they are gifts freely given by a God who creates, loves, sustains, calls, and invites us to be part of God’s acts of love, mercy, and creation.

I can thankfully respond to these gifts in at least three ways:

  1. Give thanks and praise to God,
  2. Live an abundant life, sharing this good news of the love and gifts of God for all people and creation,
  3. Participate in God’s work of love, hope, and reconciliation, as I believe God calls us all to do in our lives and vocations.

Giving thanks is all about living joyfully and gratefully for gifts beyond measure which I cannot do anything about but be thankful for. I give thanks for this love, and for all who have helped me to grow in my understanding of it. I give thanks for everyone who has shown and continues to show me such love, and hope that I can share this love with others.

My wife Allison

I give thanks for my wife Allison

I give thanks for meaningful work, and life-giving relationships. I give thanks for a loving and supportive spouse, and for my family full of people who also live out their vocations in thankful response to gifts far too numerous to count. I give thanks for friends, colleagues, peers, and mentors who live out their lives to the fullest and, whether they know it or not, provide inspiration for me and others to live fully like them.

My family

I give thanks for my family

 

Today, I particularly give thanks for a loving God, for the most supportive parents and grandparents I could have ever hoped for, for the most amazing life partner in my wife Allison, and for the supportive and exciting work of my siblings.

Who are you thankful for? What are you thankful for? And why do you give thanks?

Please join the conversation with COMPASS as we continue to reflect on why each of us gives thanks.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.