NRVC/CARA Educational Debt Study

NRVC/CARA Educational Debt Study

Message from the Executive Director

By Br. Paul Bednarczyk C.S.C., c

 

Br. Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, NRVC Executive DirectorI am delighted to present you with the final results of our newest study on educational debt and vocations. This study, generously funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, was commissioned by the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

I take this opportunity to thank Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, project director, and Dr. Mary Gautier, senior research associate at CARA, for their dedicated commitment to this project. In addition, I extend my gratitude to the members of the original working group who assisted in the planning of this study: Sister Ellen Dauwer, SC, Sister Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, Brother Campion Lally, OSF, J.D., Dr. Sharon Miller, and Sister Anne Walsh, ASCJ.

With accumulated educational debt increasing by 5 percent yearly in the United States, the research was designed with two main goals:

1) to learn more about the impact of student loans on the men and women who are coming to religious life today.

2) to learn about the policy and practices of the religious institutes regarding educational debt and to learn from their experiences.

The study has found that our national educational debt problem is definitely impeding young women and men from pursuing life as a religious priest, sister, or brother. When one out of three people applying to religious life has student loans of almost $21,000, this inevitably becomes a financial strain on some religious institutes. Some communities have no alternative but to ask potential candidates to delay their applications, or even worse, turn them away altogether.

This issue highlights one aspect of the complexity of the religious vocation question in this country. Although the solutions are not simple, NRVC is committed to finding ways to ameliorate this problem. We hope to convene in the near future a group of key stakeholders to explore possible solutions. In addition, we will publish a book of guidelines on educational debt for major superiors, vocation directors, and financial officers of religious institutes.

Changing times present new challenges to the Church and the world. In the midst of this, our faith and history attest that God does not stop calling men and women to religious life. The question is how to alleviate the barriers that may prevent them from further discernment of this call. This question, however, is not just for religious communities. If the Church and world benefit from the lives and service of women and men religious, then all of us in the Church share in the responsibility of finding a solution.

May God bless our efforts.

Click here to download complete report.

Media Contact:

Lisa Ripson, Ripson Communications
312-952-7394; lisa.ripson@ripsoncommunications.com

 

People available for interviews:

Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, Executive Director of NRVC

Kathleen Mahoney, Ph.D., Project Director for Debt Study

Mary Gautier, Ph.D., Senior Reseach Associate at CARA

Candidates/Postulants to religious life whose educational debt has affected their vocation



Executive Summary

By c

Click here to download complete report.

Educational Debt and Vocations to Religious Life

This report presents findings from a study of the impact of educational debt on vocations to religious life in the United States that was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC). The study was designed to learn more about the impact of educational debt on the men and women who are coming to religious life today. The study was also designed to learn about the policy and practices of the religious institutes in regard to educational debt and to learn from their experiences with inquirers and candidates who carry educational debt.

For this study, CARA surveyed major superiors of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life. Using mailing lists provided by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), CARA sent a questionnaire to each major superior with a cover letter from Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, executive director of NRVC, and Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, project director. The questionnaire also included a return envelope addressed to CARA. The cover letter instructed major superiors to respond only for the governance unit (e.g., congregation or province) for which the superior was responsible and, for international institutes or societies, to respond only for members who entered and are based in the United States. The letter suggested that they might need to forward the survey to another person in the institute who is knowledgeable about these questions.

CARA mailed surveys to a total of 865 religious institutes in June 2011 and then conducted extensive follow-up through summer and fall 2011 to achieve a high response rate. CARA received completed responses from 477 religious institutes for a response rate of 56 percent.

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.

Major Findings

Initial Formation and Educational Debt Major Findings

  • Although women greatly outnumber men among the finally professed, there are currently about the same number of men as women in initial formation. Institutes of men are less likely than institutes of women, however, to have no one in initial formation or to have only one or two in initial formation. Institutes of men are more likely than institutes of women to have more than ten in initial formation.
  • 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 percent) the person had educational debt at the time of their inquiry. This represents 4,328 serious inquiries in which the person had educational debt at the time of inquiry. The average amount of debt at the time of inquiry was $28,000.
  • Religious institutes that have experience in dealing with the issue of educational debt are cautious about serious inquirers who approach them with educational debt. Of those responding religious institutes with at least three serious inquirers in the last ten years who had educational debt at the time of their inquiry, seven in ten (69 percent) turned away at least some inquirers because of their educational debt.
  • On average, responding institutes with at least one formal applicant in the last ten years report that 32 percent, or about a third of these applicants, had educational debt at the time of their formal application, with debt averaging more than $20,000. Altogether, responding institutes report more than $3 million in educational debt carried by applicants to their institute in the last ten years.
  • Among religious institutes with at least one formal applicant in the last ten years, two in three turned no one away because of their educational debt. A quarter of men’s institutes, however, turned away up to half of the applicants with educational debt and another fifth turned away more than 75 percent of applicants with educational debt.
  • Responding institutes report that slightly under half of the formal applicants with educational debt were eventually accepted into candidacy or postulancy.

Institutes and Experience with Educational Debt

  • Religious institutes are noticing an increase in the number of inquirers who approach them with educational debt. Among institutes that have experience in dealing with the issue of educational debt, more than half (55 percent) are experiencing an increase in the number of inquirers with educational debt. There are no significant differences between institutes of men or institutes of women in this experience; each of the conferences of men and women religious also report a similar experience.
  • 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 percent) report that at least some serious inquirers have not pursued the application process because of their educational debt. Three in ten (29 percent) say that formal applicants have not completed the application process because of their educational debt. A fifth (22 percent) say that the unit has experienced financial strain due to the educational debt of candidates or members.
  • Most religious institutes (70 percent) have a written policy or accepted practice on educational debt. Among those, however, more than two-thirds (69 percent) report that this policy or practice has not changed in the last ten years and one in five say it needs updating.
  • Four in ten responding institutes (42 percent) take on educational debt. CMSM institutes are more likely than other conferences to take on educational debt. Among institutes that take on educational debt, six in ten (60 percent) limit the amount of educational debt they would assume for a candidate. The midpoint of that limit, among responding institutes, is $20,000.
  • Responding institutes who say they take on the educational debt of candidates are twice as likely to report that they assume the educational debt and pay it off over time as they are to ask candidates to defer their loans. Even fewer (18 percent) pay interest only on the educational loans until the member professes perpetual vows. More than half (55 percent) ask candidates who leave to reimburse the payments made by the unit for the educational debt but less than half of those who ask say that the candidates generally reimburse those payments.
  • Although there are a small number of organizations that provide funds to assist candidates with educational debt, most responding religious institutes (or their candidates) have not received funds from any of these sources. The most commonly cited funding sources among responding religious institutes were the Knights of Columbus and individual donors or patrons of the institute.

Copies of the survey questionnaire, with the percentage responses for each close-ended item, calculated out of 100 percent, can be found in Appendix I. The percentage of nonrespondents to each item, calculated separately out of 100 percent, is also shown on the questionnaires in Appendix I. A complete transcription of the responses to the open-ended questions that were included in the survey can be found in Appendix II.

In addition to summarizing the responses to each question for respondents as a whole, the report also compares the responses according to several subgroups. Where appropriate, significant differences are noted between institutes of men and institutes of women, between different levels of governance, between differences in canonical status and, in some cases, among institutes whose leaders are members of the various leadership conferences.

 



NRVC/CARA Educational Debt Study - pdf

By NRVC/CARA

Click here to download a pdf of the Educational Debt Study.


Debt Study Press Release

FOR RELEASE 12:01 A.M., FEB. 22, 2012

NRVC CARA Study on Educational Debt
and Vocations to Religious Life

NATIONAL RELIGIOUS VOCATION CONFERENCE

 

CONTACT:
Lisa Ripson
312-952-7394

ripsoncommunications.com

High educational debt a growing threat to religious vocations

Study reveals candidates turned away because of student loans

Chicago, Feb. 22, 2012: A new study on Catholic vocations reveals that educational debt is derailing the dreams of young people to become religious sisters, brothers, or priests. And the problem is likely to get worse: Religious institutes report an increase in the number of inquirers with large educational debt and national averages show record levels of student debt continuing to rise.

The 2012 Study on Educational Debt and Vocations to Religious Life, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA) for the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), finds that seven in ten institutes (69 percent) turned away at least one person because of student loans. In addition, many religious communities ask young people to delay their applications to enter because of educational debt.

“For those entering religious life, the expectation is that they be debt-free,” says Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk, Executive Director of NRVC, “but for graduates in today’s economy, where education costs have risen by 900 percent since 1978, paying off loans can take years to accomplish. The burden of student debt has become a serious problem for religious communities desirous of welcoming younger members.”

Of approximately 15,000 serious inquiries to men’s and women’s religious institutes in the past 10 years, one in three (32 percent) involved a person with educational debt averaging $28,000, a figure slightly higher than the $25,000 national average.

The majority of communities (two in three) show a willingness to work with candidates with educational debt—and some 42 percent of responding institutes assume educational debt for a least some of those who apply to enter their communities.

But, the study indicates, the practice of assuming debt places a heavy and growing financial burden on religious communities. Those applying to enter religious life during the past 10 years carried $3 million in educational debt, and if national trends continue, that overall student debt load will likely rise by 5 percent annually.

Men and women whose educational debt is delaying their entrance into a religious community often develop creative strategies for paying off their loans, such as online candy sales, marathon runs, or bingo fundraisers.

Several philanthropic organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and individual donors or patrons of the institutes, also provide assistance with educational debt. But the study finds that no national vehicle exists for redressing the burden of educational debt on religious vocations.

“Because religious sisters, brothers, and priests are vital to the life of the church and provide great service to society,” says Bednarczyk: “we plan to bring together key stakeholders to develop strategies to ease this significant and growing barrier to religious vocations.” In response to the study, the NRVC is also producing a handbook on best practices for communities working with inquirers and candidates who have educational debt. The study finds that three in ten religious institutes have no policy or accepted practice for dealing with educational debt, and another 15 percent say their policy needs updating. The study was funded by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Complete results are available at nrvc.net. Download study here.

_____________________________________________________________________

The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) was founded in 1988 as a professional organization of men and women committed to vocation awareness, invitation, and discernment to consecrated life as brothers, sisters, and priests. The NRVC has approximately 1,100 members, most of whom are vocation ministers for religious congregations. The NRVC serves its members by providing continuing education, resources, and services for professional growth.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) is a national, nonprofit, Georgetown University- affiliated 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 Church's self-understanding; serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and advance scholarly research on religion.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is a philanthropic trust established to provide funds to nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world. Supporting Catholic sisters is one of the foundation’s ten priority areas.

###



Hilton Grant Press Release

FOR RELEASE APRIL 11, 2011

National Religious Vocation Conference

CONTACT:
NRVC office
PHONE: 773-363-5454
E-MAIL: nrvc@nrvc.net

National Religious Vocation Conference Awarded Hilton Grant For Debt Study

Chicago, April 11, 2011—The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) to study educational debt and its impact on religious vocations.

Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, a consultant with extensive experience in the Catholic philanthropic community, will serve as project director. Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the NRVC, is hopeful that the “study will better equip religious congregations to work with candidates who have student loans so that student loan debt isn’t an obstacle to religious vocations and the call to consecrated life.”

The goals of this project are:

  • to assess the extent educational debt is hindering vocations to religious life;
  • to produce resources that will help address the problem of educational debt as it relates to vocations for various constituencies, including religious congregations, support organizations for vocations and religious communities, philanthropic organizations, and those considering life as a religious sister, brother, or priest.

A main impetus for the debt study was the finding in the 2009 NRVC/CARA Report on Recent Vocations to Religious Life in the United States that the average age of those entering religious life is 30 and most entrants are college educated. In addition feedback provided in the NRVC’s regular vocation trend surveys on its VocationNetwork.org website indicates that debt has played a role in candidates’ readiness or eligibility for religious life.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) was founded in 1988 as a professional organization of men and women committed to vocation awareness, invitation, and discernment to consecrated life as brothers, sisters, and priests. The NRVC has approximately 1,300 members, most of whom are vocation ministers for religious congregations. The NRVC serves its members by providing continuing education, resources, and services for professional growth.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is a family foundation established in 1944 by the founder of Hilton Hotels. The foundation provides funds to nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world. Since its inception the Foundation has awarded nearly $900 million in grants.

 

Learn more about the Study here.



Handbook on Educational Debt and Vocations to Religious Life

A project of the NRVC made possible by the generosity of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

By Kathleen A. Mahoney, editor

Written for major superiors, vocation directors, and congregational treasurers, it is intended to offer an overview of the NRVC/CARA study, as well as practical guidelines and direction regarding the financial, canonical, and spiritual implications of dealing with newer members who enter a congregation with educational debt. 

Click here to view or download the complete 23-page handbook.



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