When Christian students view college as a part of their calling, they won’t let the cost get in the way.

For some, that means doubling down on savings, hustling for scholarships, or working their way through undergrad or seminary: whatever it takes to cover rising tuition bills. Others see robust federal loan packages as a godsend, allowing them to enroll at a Christian college.

Recent student loan trends have left some Christian college grads feeling the economic impact for decades. Meanwhile, financial counselors are desperate to improve financial understanding within a system that makes lending an easy default.

“I don't feel swindled. I needed the nourishment I received from my professors and the community I found there,” said Ashley Abramson, who racked up $50,000 in private loan debt from three years at Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern–St. Paul). “But I'm still paying the price almost 10 years later, and it's affecting my marriage and now, even my kids.”

Year after year, more Americans are getting degrees, and more of them are relying on loans to pay for them. In the US today, 44 million borrowers owe a total of $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Students enrolled at private universities, including Christian colleges, are more likely to take out loans; three-fourths graduated with some debt last year.

Most students with loans end up with around $30,000, and the amount can be a little less at schools belonging to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), where tuition is higher on average than public institutions but lower than fellow private four-year schools.

The $30,000 amount results in monthly payments of a few hundred dollars, ...

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