The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Seminaries provide free financial coaching

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on the economy of theological education.

Fritz Fowler, 25, has a good handle on his finances. That's thanks in large part to financial counsel he's received through the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.). His financial coaches have "been supportive and affirmative," Fowler said. "Their wisdom has been invaluable. ... And I've learned to enjoy knowing where my money is going."

Financial education is something not only Gettysburg but all eight ELCA seminaries have tried in the last two years as part of ELCA Stewards of Abundance, a Lilly Endowment-funded program aimed at reducing seminarian debt. Several use a financial coaching model developed by the Stewardship of Life Institute at Gettysburg. Others use educational programs such as Financial Peace University at Lutheran Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.

Coaches volunteer their time. Other costs are funded through a $12,500 grant to each seminary from Stewards of Abundance, plus $12,500 in seminary funds or staff time.

While some started from scratch in 2011, Gettysburg's 5-year-old program predates Stewards of Abundance, as do similar efforts at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. Nearly three-quarters of seminarians who receive financial coaching can be found at these three schools. Any seminarian can participate, but it's mandatory for students who received targeted scholarships from Stewards of Abundance.

According to ELCA surveys of seminarians, in 2012 most (83 percent) received financial education in seminary (up from 75 percent in 2011), and 33 percent participated in financial coaching programs (up from 25 percent in 2011). Leaders hope to see participation continue to grow, especially since the majority of students found coaching improved their understanding of how to be a good steward in order to teach stewardship; how to budget or manage their spending; and how to save or invest. Seventy-two percent have already used advice from their coaches.

That's certainly the case for Fowler. "I've learned things that weren't covered in the rest of my seminary studies, and both of my [coaching] matches have worked out well," he said.

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Embracing diversity