Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2007

Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council Helps Lower Student Debt

by Andy Behrendt, M.Div. middler

When it comes to rallying support for a new generation of seminarians, the members of Luther Seminary's Alumni/ae Council practice what they preach.

That became especially clear earlier this year, when the 17-member council of Luther graduates pooled $5,000 of personal gifts to sponsor a student through Luther's Adopt a Seminarian program.

"Most of us on the current Alumni/ae Council went to the seminary when tuition was non-existent or so low that it wasn't an issue. We are aware that this is no longer the case," explains Jack Niemi, '72.

For the Alumni/ae Council, a liaison body that supports the seminary and its graduates, student debt has been an area of concern in recent years. Hal Dragseth, '71, says the council knows how graduates are impacted by debt in their first years of ministry.

"We expect pastors and other church leaders to be role models for stewardship, yet the burden of debt can limit their capacity to be generous," he says. "It became apparent that voicing our concern without demonstrating our commitment would ring hollow."

The Adopt a Seminarian program, in which individuals and congregations can sponsor students with half-tuition gifts or adopt students with full-tuition gifts, became a way to take action. Heightening the motivation was an offer from Board of Trustees Chair Janet Anderson and her husband, Brad, to match financial-aid gifts for students made in the last quarter of the 2007 financial year, which completed in June.

Alumni/ae Council members agreed to give money beyond their individual donations to create a half-tuition gift. With the Andersons' match, the  result was a $10,000 impact for students. The money assisted students with financial need or great academic merit.

"Our intent was to witness to all alums that this is important and worthy of their support and that gifts should be in addition to those alums are currently giving to the Sustaining Fund," Niemi says.

Nearly 70 percent of Luther Seminary students graduate with educational debt, and their student loans average more than $41,000 at the time of graduation.