Reflections on the rising student debt: A Latina Christian perspective

Recently I was reminded through different conversations about the issue of student debt.   The first two conversations were related to ministerial students (bachelor’s and master’s levels) who are acquiring significant debt to obtain an education.  The concern relates to the possibility that they may not find a job with sufficient income to afford both their future expenses and debt repayment.  The result will be people abandoning either ministry or their debt in order to survive.

Two days later I heard about one of my nieces who had received her first student loan bill.  From now and the foreseeable future, she will have an $850.00 monthly payment.   I was amazed since this amount equates to a mortgage payment of a small but nice house in my town.

The last conversation happened a day after, when my 21-year-old daughter out of the blue thanked me again for receiving her back in the family house after her college graduation last May.  She shared that as some of her college friends are anticipating spring graduations, they have growing concerns about where they are going and how they will survive.  For many of them, going back home is not an option because it is not socially acceptable or their parents will not receive them back.

This situation, in addition to financial anxieties, may bring other risks for young people.  It may account partially for today’s high divorce rates and/or dysfunctional relationships.  Without a place to go, premature marriage or cohabitation become appealing survival options.

By now, some readers may be wondering about my daughter’s qualities.  Was she a school failure or is she lazy?  Well, she graduated in three years, summa cum laude, and is now studying her Master’s and working.   Due to family savings, scholarships, partial employment, and a frugal life style, she acquired minimal college debt.  As she was approaching graduation, she talked about her plans which included additional studies, but she shared also her fear of acquiring extra debt.  Since there was no more educational savings for her, neither was I willing to support her with money in this endeavor, I offered her food and shelter for the next stage of the journey.  Now she is studying part time because she is paying cash for her studies.  No more debt for her.

As I write this, I do not pretend to appear as the heroine who welcomed her back.  What I want is to reflect on a solution that has worked for us.  While it mirrors the Latina family oriented life, it embodies also Christian values of hospitality, support, and life in community.  Of course, having her back has not been easy.  Even though clear boundaries/rules were set to promote a respectful and healthy home life (including a moderate rental fee), this decision has come with challenges.  However, as Christians, often we are called to do what is right, not what is comfortable and easy.

This leads me to reflect also on our responsibility to the next generation as church leaders, parents, and grandparents.  While the ideal is to not borrow any money at all, often this option is not feasible.   Thus, our responsibility includes educating ourselves and our kids about the risk and misuse of student loans.  It involves directing students toward majors/careers that are applicable in real life and hold possibilities of landing an actual job.  As parents, it involves discussing realistic data with our children about the schools that they can afford to attend, and the amount that they can borrow based on their expected income.  For some, it may include also the possibility of having your child back for a season.

For now, I am hopeful, even though I cannot tell the final results of this; I will have to write a continuation blog later.   What I know is that because of this arrangement my daughter will have less debt, and will start her adulthood with fewer burdens.  I also know that in the future when I look back at these years I will be grateful for the support I was able to provide, the communal life that we are enjoying now, and the opportunity that I had to offer hospitality and welcome not the stranger…  but my own.

Nora Lozano

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About the Author
Nora O. Lozano is professor of theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, Texas, and co-founder and co-director of the Latina Leadership Institute. She is also a member of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Church Unity.

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  • Jonathan Davis

    I have thought for some time that a great alternative to retirement accounts for young ministers would be for churches to make direct payments on the principal of their student loans. This could be given as an option to young ministers as a way to secure their financial independence, thereby securing their longevity and health in vocational ministry.

  • Nora Lozano

    Jonathan: This is an excellent idea! The challenge now is to communicate your idea
    to the right people. On my side, I will
    share it, of course given you the right credit, with some of my friends who are
    denominational leaders and seminary administrators/professors. I will ask them also to continue sharing it
    within their circle of influence. I hope
    you will be able to share your idea too with other key persons. Thanks for reading my blog!