Dordt College News

From the president

August 12, 2009

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Building Assets for Life

Sometimes we’re scared to go into debt. That’s not a bad fear. But, debt makes sense if it lets us take advantage of an opportunity that will never return and if its benefits are worth the sacrifices we’ll need to make to repay it.

Some people have become increasingly nervous about going into debt in order to attend a Christian college. They worry that it will take too long to pay off those debts during uncertain economic times. 

Certainly no Christian should ever take on a debt without exercising an appropriate level of caution. However, foregoing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Christian higher education also incurs a debt—only this is a debt will be carried for a lifetime.

I would contend that, in most cases, taking on a prudent amount of debt to attend an institution like Dordt College could be a great investment. Government statistics show that the average Dordt College student borrows less for college than the typical student at the state universities in Iowa. More to the point, the most recent default rates issued by the government showed that our graduates have a default rate that is less than one tenth of that among borrowers at our regional community colleges.  So, while not minimizing the cost, it still seems pretty clear that for a high percentage of our graduates, their investment has been far more manageable than for those who attended the government-run alternatives.

But more important, those who bypass Christian higher education for non-Christian alternatives incur a different sort of debt. Never again will they have the opportunity to have a community of faith imbue their educational environment. Never again will they have the chance to work together with professors and peers to form their mind by the mind of Christ in whatever area of study they embark. And never again will they be able to take advantage of the once in a lifetime experience of living 24/7 in a Christ-centered educational community, where the Word of God can inform their heart and mind, and give them a framework on which they can build their family, career, and personal goals for the rest of their lives. To my way of thinking, that’s quite a debt burden to take on, and one that simply never can be repaid.

It is a lot harder to quantify this type of debt. It’s what economists call “opportunity cost.”  It is easier to keep track of what you spend rather than what you missed out on because you didn’t invest. For this type of debt, no bank or lending agency will send a regular reminder of what you owe. Nevertheless, the cost of bypassing Christian higher education is no less real just because it doesn’t show up on your monthly statement.

Yes, Christian education is expensive. That’s why churches, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends of the family need to pitch in, especially during times of economic contraction and stress. Perhaps we need to compare it to being tempted during a cash crunch to skip scheduled maintenance on our cars or other household equipment. The question is not whether we’re going to pay, it’s whether we pay it now (in keeping up the maintenance) or pay it later.

Economic crises come and go, and they are real. But the opportunity for a Christian college learning experience comes once a lifetime. It may be that the only choice we really have is either to pay the cost and invest in it now or miss the opportunity for a lifetime.

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