Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Student Loans: A Drag on Vocations

In a recent post we reviewed some of CARA’s research and data on how discouragement by family and peers is likely having a significant negative impact on religious and priestly vocations. Today, the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) released a study conducted by CARA regarding another infrequently noted factor: the effect of student loan debt.

In this study, CARA surveyed major superiors of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life (a total of 865 religious institutes) in June 2011. CARA received completed responses from 477 religious institutes for a response rate of 56%. The units that responded to the survey reported a total of 47,113 perpetually professed men and women religious, approximately two-thirds of all women and men religious in the United States.  Many of the institutes or other entities that did not respond appear to be either small, mostly contemplative, communities that may not have had anyone in initial formation for some time, or those who are still in the process of becoming institutes of consecrated life.

On average, responding institutes with at least one serious inquirer in the last ten years report that for about a third of these inquiries (32%) the person had educational debt at the time of their inquiry. This represents 4,328 serious inquiries in which the person had educational debt. The average amount of this debt at the time of inquiry was $28,000.

Assuming that the average amount of time enrolled in college is four years, a mean average (mean of the mean) educational debt of $28,000 is equivalent to $7,000 per year. This is comparable to other students’ educational borrowing habits. In the 2007-2008 academic year, 53% of undergraduate students attending a public, 4-year institution took out student loans averaging $7,200. In that same year, 65% of undergraduate students at private, not-for-profit institutions (including Roman Catholic colleges and universities) took out student loans averaging $10,000 (source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics).

Religious institutes that have had at least three serious inquirers in the last ten years who had educational debt at the time of their inquiry report that this debt is having a dampening effect on the institute. A third (34%) report that at least some serious inquirers have not pursued the application process because of their educational debt. Three in ten (29%) say that formal applicants have not completed the application process and a fifth (22%) say that the unit has experienced financial strain due to the educational debt of candidates or members. 

Four in ten responding institutes (42 percent) take on the educational debt of candidates or members. This varies by conference as shown in the figure below.

Among institutes that take on educational debt, six in ten (60%) limit the amount of educational debt they would assume for a candidate. The midpoint of that limit, among responding institutes, is $20,000. CMSM institutes have the highest limit, with a midpoint of $25,000 among member institutes. For LCWR member institutes this median limit is $16,000. At CMSWR member institutes the midpoint limit is $10,000 and for contemplative communities this is $4,000.

The full report, by CARA researchers Mary L. Gautier and Melissa A. Cidade, is available for download here.

Above photo courtesy of CarbonNYC at Flickr Creative Commons. 

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