The price of a Christian college education can seem overwhelming. Maybe you're thinking, There's no way we could afford to send our child to a Chris-tian college.
You're not alone. The high cost of private education will stretch and strain most family budgets. That's why we interviewed parents who decided a Christian education really would be worth the cost. We talked to them about how they did it and what sacrifices they had to make. And we talked to them about their firm belief that they made the best decision about their child's education.
The parents we interviewed had at least one child attend Sterling College, a four-year Christian liberal arts college in Sterling, Kansas. Sterling's tuition is $12,750 per year, which doesn't include room, board or books. If these parents can do it, you probably can too. So, soak in some sound advice from parents who have been there, and have seen a Christian college education become a reality for their kids.
One Day at a Time
Tom and Teri Eastman, Lyons, Kansas.
They have six kids, Tyler (senior at Sterling), Conor (freshman at Sterling), Caleb (high school senior), Kaley (high school junior), Kelsy (eighth grader) and B.J. (pre-schooler). Tom is a pastor and Teri is a teacher's aide in an elementary school.
With six kids and a pastor's salary, saving for college was not an option for the Eastman family. Tom says since he grew up in a large family, being one of five kids, he understood there would be financial limits on his own children's college educations. He says he encourages his kids to rely on part-time jobs, grants, scholarships and limited loans in order for their undergraduate work to cost them as little as possible.
To save some money, Tyler waited until his junior year to begin attending Sterling. He attended a local junior college during his first two years. Since their hometown of Lyons is about 13 miles from the college, Tyler can live at home instead of having to pay for on-campus room and board.
Tom regrets that his son is missing out on the social aspect of college life by living off campus. But doing so helps make the education affordable. And it's just another sacrifice worth making because it will prepare Tyler to succeed in his chosen professionpastoral ministry.
"I think some kids go away to college for four years and then get rolled out into the world, which can be a difficult adjustment," Tom says. "My kids will never be able to say that they are 'just going to college' during any part of their education. They have to be hard workers and learn to juggle 100 different things to stay on top. But I think they'll be prepared for the ups and downs of this world."
Tyler survives the ups and downs of college tuition through his manage-ment internship at Target and through Habitat for Humanity's scholarship program. Tyler was one of a few to receive an $11,000 scholarship through Habitat, the result of volunteering six Saturdays per semester, working on projects that give homes to needy families, and attending local chapter meetings. Tom hopes his other children can also benefit from this program.
He says his family has to live one day at a time, using whatever resources they've been given. They've also found some unique ways to earn extra cash. "Recently we moved out to the country and began some farming," Tom says. "We also hope to bring in some extra money through dog-breeding and rebuilding cars." He says being faithful with what God has given them and trusting him to provide for their needs gets their family through the financial crunch.
Larry and Lisa Dashiell, Portland, Oregon. They have two kids, Christian ('01 Sterling graduate) and Harmonee (junior at Linfield College). Larry's a vice principal at a Portland high school and Lisa works as a discharge planner at a medical center.
Conversations about affording a Christian education began for Larry and Christian during the college search. Larry says financing an education has a lot to do with how his son handles responsibility. "We didn't have much money in savings, so we put a ceiling on the amount we could give him and how much he was allowed to borrow," he says. "We were hoping the rest would be covered through scholarships or grants."
For Christian, that meant keeping his grades up in high school, which eventually got him an academic scholarship. That scholarship didn't cover as much as the family had hoped, which made it frustrating to see such a hard-working student not receive more money. "Sometimes the scholarships were based on GPA instead of the courses he took," Larry says. "If he hadn't taken such tough classes, I know he would have had a 4.0. Although, pushing him in high school has helped him excel in college."
Another thing that kept Christian from qualifying for more scholarship money was Larry and Lisa's stable income. Larry says they fall into that in-between category of making too much money to qualify for more government assistance and not enough to cover the bill themselves. But Larry sees that as a blessing instead of a curse. "We've been so fortunate and blessed to not be out of work in our professions."
He says their situation has required their kids to establish a budget of their own. Christian worked a part-time job year-round to support extra expenses, including books.
Besides scholarships and part-time jobs, Chris-tian found another way to help pay for college. Dur-ing his time at Sterling, he was a resident assistant in one of the dorms. This position provided free room and board.
And even after graduation, Christian's responsibility for financing his education continues with his monthly loan payments. "My wife and I didn't take out any loans in our name; that's his responsibility," Larry says. "My philosophy is that you could graduate from college and get a brand new car, or you could have an older, funky car and more easily pay off your loans."
Larry chooses to live by his philosophy, too. Until recently, he was still driving an '82 Volvo. He planned to drive it until both of his kids graduated from college. "Unfortunately that car was totaled in a wreck, which forced us to buy a more recent model," he says. "But even that car is nowhere near a Lexus. Their college education is what I call my 'Lexus money.'"
Larry wished he could've saved more money for his kids' education, but he says that's hard for anybody to do. For the Dashiells, financing a Christian college education is a matter of faith in God and also giving their kids some responsibility for funding their own education.
Hanging in There
Sherry Hamm, Haskell, Oklahoma. Sherry is a single mom with two daughters, Kelley (serving in the military) and Abbey ('01 Sterling graduate). Sherry teaches English, speech and Spanish at a local high school.
Sherry says if she had a second chance at preparing for the expense of a Christian education she would've saved more money.
"I had some money saved, but not enough to cover the costs," she says. "There's almost always something you don't count on paying for, whether it's an activity your child wants to participate in or surprising them with a little cash to spend on the weekends."
And sometimes those extra expenses don't even relate to the actual college tuition. Last year, Sherry had a surgical procedure that cost more than she expected. So, with the combination of college and hospital bills, Sherry's budget was tight. She says all she could do at that time was pay as much as she could, and trust God with the rest. "Occasionally I felt like I'd never make it through with the little money I had," Sherry says. "But the next thing I knew, I had made it. Somehow everything came together."
Sherry says that Abbey helps quite a bit with the cost of her education, mostly through a basketball scholarship at Sterling. "Abbey has always been responsible with money," Sherry says. "And through these college experiences, like being a part of the basketball team, she's not only learned to manage her money, but her time as well."
Abbey has also helped through various summer jobsmowing lawns, being a nanny, helping with her grandma's business, or even working for Sterling.
In order for Sherry not to be overwhelmed by the costs, she put things in perspective. "I keep in mind what I need to work toward right now, instead of focusing on the grand total," she says. "I also remember that paying for college won't last forever. If I'm going to sit here and whine about it, I'm not getting very far down the road."
The best advice Sherry can give is "hang in there." She says that seeing Abbey grow and mature at Sterling was a wonderful experience. The education her daughter received was worth the money because it gave her a good foundation for real life.
Marty and Sue Hunt, Derby, Kansas. They have two kids Eric ('00 Southwestern College graduate) and Sara (senior at Sterling). Marty is a teacher and athletic coach at the local high school and Sue runs a sewing business out of her home.
Marty and Sue received a hefty inheritance a year before Eric, their oldest, headed off to college. The cash was immediately earmarked for the kids' educational needs. Sue says Eric and Sara are fortunate to not have to worry about loan payments following graduation.
She realizes it's not a typical way to pay for college, but says every parent makes decisions about how to use money, whether it comes through income or an unexpected gift. "With our income there was only so much we could save for their education," Sue says. "So, when we received the inheritance, we had a choice on how we'd spend it. We could've bought two new vehicles, a bigger house or even traveled to Europe, but we decided that spending it on Christian college educations was best."
Even though Eric and Sara had the majority of their college expenses covered, Sue says they were still responsible for buying their books, taking care of car expenses and providing their own spending money. Sara has a job on campus, which provides just enough to cover these expenses. She doesn't have time to take on much, with a double major in education and biology. She has taken 19 hours each semester in order to finish in four years, which was encouraged by her parents.
The big price tag of a Christian college education (for both of their kids) wasn't something Marty and Sue expected to afford. But Sue says she's learned to not underestimate the resources available.
"I just think the benefits of going to a Christian college are so great that parents sometime overlook the possibilities of sending their kids there because of the dollar amount," she says. "You have no idea, until you tap into the resources, how much the college will give you, what you'll receive from the government or the types of scholarships your kids will be granted. My advice to parents is to not close the door to a Christian college education before you have explored the options."