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Scholarship money declines for United Methodist students

 


Scholarship money declines for United Methodist students

May 16, 2005

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—The decline in congregations giving to special Sunday offerings is wreaking havoc on the number of scholarships the United Methodist Church’s higher education agency can give to eligible applicants.

Last year, the Office of Loans and Scholarships had to turn away 300 eligible applicants.

"We continually have more eligible applicants than we have dollars available," said Angella Current-Felder, executive director of the office, a unit of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Current-Felder told United Methodist News Service that there is a decline in giving to the three special Sunday offerings that enable scholarships to United Methodist students—World Communion Sunday, which provides scholarships for ethnic minority students, United Methodist Student Day, which enables undergraduates to attend United Methodist-related schools, and Native American Ministries Sunday, which provides scholarships for Native Americans pursing master of divinity degrees.

Each United Methodist-related college receives allocations from the United Methodist Student Day offering, and each annual (regional) conference receives 10 percent of its Student Day receipts to award to merit scholars, she said.

The board administers 60 scholarship programs that provided nearly $4.8 million in awards to 3,540 students last year. The agency provided another $1.2 million in loans to 500 students.

Giving to the three special Sundays has dropped or remained flat while the number of scholarship applications has increased.

Last year, collections decreased 6.9 percent for World Communion Sunday and 4.4 percent for Native American Ministries Sunday, while barely increasing 0.7 percent for United Methodist Student Day, according to the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration. Student Day dollars all go to scholarships, but the offerings for the other two Sundays support ministries in addition to scholarships.

"The decline of the congregational giving for the offerings has a negative impact on the amount of available funds for scholarships for students," Current-Felder said.

Against that backdrop, Current-Felder’s office has received 50 more applications this year than what was received in May 2004. To date, the office has received 2,108 applications for the 2005-06 academic year, up from 2,053 a year earlier.

The average scholarship awarded ranges from $800 to $1,000, she said.

Portions of the Student Day offering are returned to United Methodist-related schools to award scholarships themselves, but the lack of money has prevented an increase in allocations to the schools.

The denomination’s Gift of Hope Scholarship Fund is decreasing because no new money from the United Methodist Student Day offering is being fed into the program to support it. "Continuing this program is going to be difficult in another couple of years," Current-Felder said.

While some United Methodist churches have their own scholarship funds for students in their congregations, she said, the amounts do not cover the educational costs for those students because they still need additional money.

In addition to the drop in special Sundays giving, another factor has contributed to scholarship denials: restrictions on earnings from wills and annuities, which represent 70 percent of scholarship money awarded from the board or money awarded through the United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education. The amount provided from wills and annuities—money bequeathed to the United Methodist of Higher Education or to the foundation—amounts to nearly $4 million that is invested by the board. The earnings from those wills and annuities provide the scholarships.

In a mailing to the denomination’s bishops, Current-Felder stated that at the end of July 2004, about $3.7 million in scholarship funds had been awarded to more than 2,700 students. The letter stated that the number of students would increase to 3,500 after her office received nominations from the United Methodist schools, colleges and universities.

"Nevertheless, in spite of the number we were able to award, there were still more than 300 eligible United Methodist students for which we did not have any scholarship dollars," she said.

The Native American Ministries offering provides money for Native American students to attend graduate school and pursue ministry. Such a student who wants to attend an undergraduate school might not be able to receive funding from World Communion dollars. "So that student may not be able get to graduate school to pursue ministry," she said.

"It is not an ethnic issue, but is a United Methodist student issue," Current-Felder said. "How are we investing in the leadership of our church for the present and the future?"

While statistics show the denomination is "graying," it is also filled with young people who are active in their local congregations, and for whom $1,000 could make a difference in whether they go to college or not.

"How can we get graying congregations to have a vested interest in the future," particularly in the future of their grandchildren? Current-Felder asked.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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