Promoting Education for a Lifetime of Discipleship

Financial Aid for Service

Author Laura Bryan
Author Laura Bryan

I usually introduce myself by saying that I have a great job because I give away money for a living. It is an oversimplification, but I think most people know that. They smile and nod because they recognize that there is a bit more to Financial Aid than handing out cash. It is the product of the work that they recognize as valuable to others, satisfying to me, and pleasing to God.

But here is the secret: it hasn’t always been satisfying to me. At times, working with Financial Aid has been the worst job I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong: helping people pay for their education is an incredible privilege. However, over the last decade, endowments shrank, and the value of the endowment’s yield relative to the rising cost of education means that the remaining need gap has widened every year.

When the thing that is most valued by others and satisfying to you is giving away money, and there is less money, you start every year further behind.

Since 2008, we’ve been thinking about what grants, scholarships, and loans do, and about how the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s goals are served by Financial Aid.

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Financial Aid for Service’s mission is to reduce financial barriers to service while encouraging and equipping students to engage in discernment of vocation.
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Financial Aid for Service’s mission is to reduce financial barriers to service while encouraging and equipping students to engage in discernment of vocation. Providing 1.2 million dollars a year in scholarships, grants, loans, and student loan assistance payments, the office works with approximately 700 aid applicants a year, as well as consulting with Presbyterian parents, students, and pastors.

Leslie - IOU BankRoughly one-third of the funding and half of the students we serve are undergraduates. We manage programs for college students. The scholarship programs include National Presbyterian College Scholarship (for Presbyterian students attending Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) related colleges and universities) and Student Opportunity Scholarship (serving church members who are sophomores, juniors, or seniors attending any college in the U.S.). These programs serve full-time students eligible for need-based aid, and engage students in a dialog about vocation.

We also manage the Samuel Robinson Award for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members attending related colleges and universities. This opportunity is a somewhat unique one in which the donor provided a gift to the denomination in order to share an important aspect of his own Christian formation: the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Students recite the catechism from memory and write an essay informed by their study of the catechism to be considered for awards.

We offer a low-interest loan program for students and a parent loan program, serving students requiring assistance from an alternative loan program.

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I could write another entire article about the heroic work the Presbyterian-related seminaries perform year after year to hold down cost for students.
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Financial Aid for Service is committed to need-based aid for several reasons. While we value education for all, the endowments do not produce enough funding to serve every student. We have to make decisions based on our deepest values. Amelioration of poverty is a priority for Presbyterian ministries, and Financial Aid is no exception. A need-based aid process also compels students to apply for aid through the college the student plans to attend, which typically qualifies students we serve for more aid.

Johnson C. Smith Seminary
Students from Johnson C. Smith Seminary, a Presbyterian-related Seminary

The next one-third of the funding we use serves the needs of students under care of a presbytery who are preparing for ministry and attending one of the Presbyterian-related seminaries. I received an email last week asking me for the average cost of attendance for seminary. It isn’t a figure that we pay a lot of attention to; our eyes are fixed on remaining need. But in case you’re wondering, the average cost of attendance for Presbyterian related seminaries in 2014-15 was $32,038, but the remaining need for Presbyterian Study Grant students was $15,525.

I could write another entire article about the heroic work the Presbyterian-related seminaries, supported by the mission agency, mid-councils, congregations, alumni/ae, and church members, perform year after year to hold down cost for students. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that $30,000 a year is a good starting point for tuition at private colleges, before living expenses are added.

There are approximately 500 students under care and enrolled full-time at accredited seminaries in the U.S., and the endowment will not support awards for 500 students. We focus our efforts on students attending Presbyterian-related seminaries because of the tremendous denominational investment in the related seminaries, expressed over decades by church members, congregations, mid-councils, and the General Assembly. Tuition grants provided by Presbyterian-related seminaries themselves make it possible for Presbyterian Mission Agency student aid to further reduce the need for loans with a $4,000 grant awarded to up to 125 seminary students.

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Financial Aid for Service is committed to need-based aid for several reasons. We have to make decisions based on our deepest values. Amelioration of poverty is a priority for Presbyterian ministries, and Financial Aid is no exception.
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Since 2011, our work has expanded significantly to include programs to assist teaching elders serving in part-time and/or temporary pastoral positions and volunteers in mission with student loan repayment advice and financial assistance. We encourage borrowers to protect their credit and to make use of the best possible repayment plan that meets their short-term needs, while also urging borrowers to regularly review their account information and revise payment plans to meet their long-term needs. By helping borrowers understand the repayment features of their loans, we can help them save thousands of dollars, and qualify for programs like Public Service Debt Assistance.

Calculator Success PictureI’m going to have to leave my glib intro speech behind.

My name is Laura Bryan. I have a great job because I help people use their God-given gifts by engaging them in a meaningful discussion of vocation; providing scholarships, grants, and loans to reduce the burden of educational debt; and equipping graduates to manage their educational debt.

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AUTHOR BIO: Laura Bryan is the associate for Financial Aid in Theology, Worship, and Education. The work of Financial Aid is sustained by gifts from 300 endowed funds, each expressing the faith of generations of individuals in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. She joined the mission agency staff in 1996 after a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force, and has managed the work of Financial Aid for Service since 2007, supporting and supported by colleagues with responsibility for young adult ministries, collegiate ministries, vocation, transformational leadership, and theological education. For more information about programs and opportunities to support student aid programs contact her at 800-728-7228 ex.t 5735 or by email at finaid@pcusa.org.

Read more articles in this issue: A Pedagogy for the Distressed!

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