D. Merrill Ewert and Patricia A. Anderson do the Mennonite community a good service by drawing attention to our colleges’ dependence on government subsidy (“The Stake in Federal Aid“). Setting aside the hypothetical question of a potential conflict between Christian conscience and government assistance that might arise from the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, the writers rightly question whether the current model of private higher education is financially sustainable. One might also question whether such government dependence is desirable.
The authors do not point out an obvious problem: the substantial dependence on student indebtedness. On average, nearly three out of four students at Mennonite colleges and universities need federal loans to fund their education, averaging more than $7,000 per indebted student. If we added in private loans, that proportion and amount could be even greater.
Mennonite colleges and universities, like many small private institutions, are heavily leveraged on the debt loads — and thus the financial risks — of their students. Given that tuition costs are rising much faster than inflation, Mennonite institutions can continue functioning on the current model into the foreseeable future only by their students taking on even greater debt.
It is time to imagine a model of Anabaptist-Christian higher education that is neither dependent on government subsidy nor leveraged on student debt.
Darrin W. Snyder Belousek