New Grant Addresses Student Debt

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Duke Divinity School has received a $250,000 grant as part of Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. It is one of 67 theological schools across the country to be awarded a grant as part of this project. The gift also advances the Divinity School’s efforts to raise $80 million as part of the university-wide $3.25 billion Duke Forward campaign.

Personal financial pressures are severely limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders, according to the initiative. The initiative’s aim is to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastors.

"We are delighted to receive this gift from the Lilly Endowment that will enable us to better understand and address the complex issues related to student indebtedness,” said Susan Pendleton Jones, associate dean for United Methodist initiatives and ministerial formation at Duke Divinity School. “Though these funds cannot be used for direct student aid, they will be used to create strategic, intentional programs that allow us to explore factors that affect levels of debt and assist our students in financial literacy. We are grateful for this opportunity to focus efforts on this crucial topic affecting pastoral leadership and theological education."

Duke Divinity School will use the funds from this grant to accomplish four objectives:

  • To create a task force to study the distribution of scholarships and the financial investments in field education in order to understand their impact on student indebtedness;
  • To create a new program called the “No Debt Challenge” to encourage students without scholarships to graduate debt-free;
  • To expand the current scholarship program, “Celebrating God’s Call,” by deepening partnerships with participating congregations;
  • To create a multi-pronged approach to increase student financial literacy.

“Pastors are indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations,” said Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face. The Endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so that pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family—J. K. Lilly Sr. and sons J. K. Jr. and Eli—through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education, and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grant-making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.