When President Biden announced his student loan forgiveness plan, my first thought was “What does this mean for the Fund for Vocations?” The answer so far seems to be: “Probably not much.” Assuming the plan survives constitutional scrutiny and takes effect as written, it only applies to Federal loans. Most of our grant recipients have private loans in addition to, or instead of, Federal ones. The loan forgiveness is also capped at $10,000. Meanwhile, the average student debt load nationwide continues to hover around $40,000 per graduating senior. Our grant recipients are no exception. Most come to us with considerably more than $10,000 in loan debt, and the remaining balance would still pose an impossible barrier to entry into religious formation.
I was once told by an expert in smallholder farmer economics: “Look, if you know that a farmer needs at least 8 goats to break even, you are not actually doing him any favors by giving him 6.” That same logic shapes the approach the Fund for Vocations takes to our work. However heavy the cross of an applicant’s debt burden may be, we shoulder it so the person can enter formation. If it turns out that we can shed $10,000 worth of that burden from each cross, so much the better. We are encouraging our grant applicants to pursue this forgiveness program. But we don’t pretend that it will solve the problem—if only!
The student debt crisis has complex causes and has been generations in the making. It won’t be solved quickly or $10,000 at a time. Until it is solved, it poses a serious threat to the health of our Church. On behalf of the board and staff, and all our grant recipients, thank you for continuing to share in the work that remains in front of us.