It is a practical question: How do Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students pay for their education?
The first answer is you! As Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod members, you may be making regular gifts to the seminary without even knowing it. When your congregation submits its offering to the synod, you have—through your congregation—helped young men who are studying for the ministry. The seminary has received $1 million annually in support from our synod. Depending on enrollment, this has resulted in a contribution of between $10,000 and $12,000 per student. This is a huge amount. Thank you! Please continue supporting our church body, which not only cares for its ministerial education schools, but also supports missionaries—and does so much more to bring the gospel to our world.
Yet students still bear a significant portion of their education’s cost. Tuition is right around $10,000 a year. There is an additional $8,000 expense for dorm students. Married students have to pay for their own place to stay, for utilities, for food. All students have vehicles to fuel and service. With tuition and living expenses, most students have at least a $20,000 responsibility for the nine months they are in school.
Where does that $20,000 come from?
Because of the unique seminary schedule, with all classes held in the morning, students earn money as they work approximately 20 hours a week in the afternoons and evenings. On average this produces approximately $725 a month, or about $6500 over nine months. But this amount alone does not cover the cost of education and living expenses. While summer income can help, students still may have at least a $10,000 deficit when it comes to covering school year expenses.
Certain students and families are in a position to carry this responsibility on their own. For that we are most grateful to our Lord. In some cases, a working spouse makes it much more possible to cover seminary expenses. Yet a large number of our students need additional assistance.
While there are outside organizations which have helped support our students, the largest role has been—and will continue to be—played by brothers and sisters in Christ who contribute generously to the Seminary Scholarship Fund. When considering all sources of assistance, on average our students can receive between $9,000 and $10,000 in help. Some may need more than that. Others are grateful that they need less. But in the end, the generosity of so many has permitted a blessed reality—almost without exception, our students leave the seminary with less debt than when they arrived.
Debt? Where did this debt come from? This debt is not primarily credit card debt or medical debt. Over 98% is education debt (this figure does not include auto loans). In recent years, the debt levels of our students have increased significantly. Ten years ago, the average amount was around $15,000. Today, the average debt for a student who has significant debt is around $30,000. In addition, the percentage of students with such significant debt has increased from being about 50% of the student body to close to 75% of the student body. Important to note is that these numbers include the debts of wives. As over 50% of our student body is married, the effect of a wife’s debt load is not inconsequential.
On the one hand, we are grateful that debt numbers are not higher than they are. At the same time, there are challenges associated with paying off such debt. Our students are generally required to begin paying off their government loans while at the seminary, so these challenges begin already here. The seminary views this as an opportunity, knowing that any progress students make while here speeds the eventual elimination of their debt.
Debt. Tuition. Housing. Automobiles. Food. And even a bit of money for fun. Our students face the responsibilities of life which are common to many. We thank the Lord that he has blessed them with interest in ministry and with gifts for ministry, and we are eager to do everything we can to encourage them along their way.
Or perhaps better said, you have done so much to encourage them along their way. As we encourage our students to be faithful stewards of the gifts God has given them, we also pass along to our students the gifts you share from what God has given to you. Your money, which becomes their money, represents a partnership. Together we partner to prepare more and more witnesses for Jesus, who long to encourage you in your witness for Jesus, as we all look forward one day to seeing our Jesus.
Prof. Stephen Geiger is professor of New Testament and education and serves as the financial aid director.
GOD’S GIFT of MONEY;
Many Pathways for Partnership
Giving to our Seminary Scholarship Fund
Creating an Endowment Fund which supports scholarships
Supporting a student directly
Encouraging your congregation to support a student