United Methodist students disappointed as giving shrinks


Nearly 1,000 United Methodists who qualified for a scholarship this year walked away empty-handed, and even more students are expected to be disappointed in 2011 unless giving to scholarship funds increases dramatically.

A number of factors have contributed to the problem, said James Harding, interim executive director of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Office of Loans and Scholarships.
“First, the applications skyrocketed after we began accepting applications online in 2009,” Harding said. “At the same time, investment earnings were down due to the poor economy, even as giving to World Communion Sunday, United Methodist Student Day, and Native American Ministries Sunday continues to decline.”
Money for UM scholarships and loans comes from a variety of funding sources – donations to Special Sundays with offerings, earnings on investments of gifts from wills and annuities, and repayments and interest on student loans.
Student Day offerings have declined from $602,309 in 2007 to $484,188 last year.
“We turned down 954 qualified United Methodist students in 2010 simply because we didn’t have enough money,” Harding said. In 2010, 2,411 students received scholarships totaling $3.3 million.
“Support for United Methodist Student Day is crucial if we are to honor the church’s commitment to educating a new generation of Christian leaders,” Harding said. Student Day is observed the last Sunday in November – Nov. 28 this year – or any other day a church chooses. And, anyone can give online at anytime at www.umcgiving.org/umstudentday.
Ninety percent of Student Day collections go to the United Methodist scholarship programs, while 10 percent is for student loans. Each United Methodist-related college gets money from the offering for scholarships, and each participating annual conference gets 10 percent of Student Day receipts to award to their own merit scholars.
“We understand that churches are struggling to pay their own bills and their apportionments, and we believe that because of that, fewer churches are observing Special Sundays,” Harding said.
Offerings for World Communion Sunday, observed on Oct. 3 this year, were $930,878 in 2009, down from $1.2 million in 2007. Half of the offering provides scholarships for international and U.S. racial-ethnic graduate students. Thirty-five percent of the receipts support scholarships for racial-ethnic undergraduate students, and 15 percent funds Ethnic In-Service Training Program scholarships for racial-ethnic persons seeking second careers in church-related vocations.
Native American Ministries Sunday, observed on the third Sunday of Easter or any other day a church chooses, nurtures mission with Native Americans and provides scholarships for United Methodist Native American seminarians. The 2010 offering for this Special Sunday was $241,892, down from $367,251 in 2007.
One of the scholarships that will be dramatically reduced this year is the Rev. Dr. Karen Layman Gift of Hope Scholarship, which is awarded to United Methodists who have been active leaders in their church but are attending non-United Methodist-related colleges or universities.
“In 2011, we will only be able to award 200 Gift of Hope Scholarships, compared to 500 this year and 715 two years ago,” said Allyson Collinsworth, GBHEM’s scholarship administrator. In 2007, GBHEM endowed the scholarship with $500,000 in earnings from loan funds, but that endowment currently only funds about 18 scholarships a year.
The Rev. Anna E. Layman Knox, daughter of the late Karen Layman, said she believes supporting education is foundational for every other cause. Layman Knox, a provisional elder, serves as associate pastor at Manning Road Mission Church in Durban, South Africa.
“Working now in a country where access to education dramatically defines peoples' options in life, I am continually reminded that my education was a gift — an opportunity that I didn't earn but one that has opened my mind and my spirit up to great possibilities,” Layman Knox said. “I would not be the person or minister that I strive to be now without the gift of that education.”
(Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry).