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May 03, 2012 4:21 PM Sister Usury

By Daniel Luzer

How bad is student debt in America? It may depends on what the college student wants to do with his life.

The impact of student loans, many commentators argue, is not really that awful. Sure the average burden now stands at some $25,000 a person, but it’s not really crippling. Two economists recently argued in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that,

Most current educational borrowing is wise. An overemphasis in news coverage of students drowning in debt… is scaring people away from taking on healthy debt. Art-history majors who are $100,000 in the red and unemployed exist, to be sure, but accepting them as typical amounts to a species of “cognitive bias.”

But student loans impact more than just the age at which one can buy a house or how often one can go out to dinner. Concerns about such spending patterns exclusively might also be a sort of “cognitive bias.” Some graduates have much more fundamental concerns. According to an article by Eve Tahmincioglu at MSNBC:

Nicole Ferko’s $60,000 in student loans made her put off her dream of becoming a nun for a decade. Ferko, who lives in Grand Prairie, Texas, graduated from a private Ohio Catholic university in 2002 and walked away with a huge loan burden.
“I knew I wanted to give my life to God, but I expected after college I’d go right in and work toward becoming a sister,” she said. But she discovered that individuals looking to become priests or nuns need to be debt free.
It took her until late last year to pay off her loans because she was unable to find many good-paying jobs and ended up racking up $20,000 in credit card debt. With the loans and credit cards paid off, Ferko, 32, is now on track to become a sister with The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, but she won’t reach her ultimate goal of donning a nun’s habit until she’s 39 because the process takes that long.

According to a piece in the National Catholic Reporter, almost 70 percent of religious orders had to reject candidates because of student loans. Many others simply tell people not to apply because of student loan debt.

And this is at a time when the Catholic Church is facing a severe shortage of priests and nuns. It looks like student loan debt might matter a lot more than we thought.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer