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Students work in the library at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas

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Offering helps students defray higher education costs

Polly House
November-December 2016

On Sunday, Nov. 27, United Methodists will celebrate United Methodist Student Day by receiving a special offering, the proceeds of which help United Methodist students offset the rising costs of a college or seminary education.

Students in each annual conference — and many congregations — benefit from this offering.

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One of six Special Sundays authorized by the General Conference, Student Day encourages church members to support scholarships for United Methodist students adding knowledge to their faith at United Methodist-related seminaries, colleges and universities. The funds received from the Student Day offering support scholarships awarded through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The United Methodist Church recognizes the importance of helping students pay for higher education, said Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Each year, the agency awards about 2,500 scholarships.

For 2015, Higher Education and Ministry received $408,155.32 in Student Day offerings, which provided part of the $3 million total awarded to 2015 scholarship recipients.

"In 2015, we awarded about 70 percent of the scholarships to undergraduate students, 28 percent to graduate/seminary students and 2 percent to doctoral students," said Collinsworth. "Of the scholarships, 63 percent of the funds went to female students and 43 percent went to ethnic students."

The Office of Loans and Scholarships oversees more than 70 scholarship programs, with funds awarded to students who meet varying criteria. Award amounts range from $500 to $10,000. The average undergraduate award is $500, and the average graduate award is $1,000. Awards to students attending United Methodist seminaries are an average of $2,000. Higher awards may be available from scholarship funds with more restrictive criteria and more money.

"Students apply between January and March each year using the general online application (www.gbhem.org/loans-and-scholarships/scholarships)," Collinsworth said. "Committees review applications and make award decisions in June, and the GBHEM Loans and Scholarships administers the process to notify recipients and disburse the scholarship checks to the student's school."

Collinsworth, who has led the loans and scholarships area for the past five years, said, "We've done some research and the average debt for a graduating seminary student is about $66,000. Typically, the first jobs out of seminary pay about $36,000, so it's truly a struggle to pay back the student loans."

Between 800 and 1,000 students who apply for scholarships each year are denied due to lack of funding. The Student Day offering helps close the gap.

Since 1866, Methodists have recognized the importance of supporting students. It began with the Children's Education Fund (CEF) that helped pay for children's Sunday schools. Six years later, the first Special Sunday with an offering was established to support the CEF. In 1940, CEF Day became known as Methodist Student Day.

By giving generously on United Methodist Student Day, church members help prepare young leaders to alleviate suffering around the world, embolden them to speak truth to power, equip them to free the oppressed, liberate them from crushing debt and, most importantly, empower the dreams that will change the world through faithful service for Christ.

Preparing a future pastor

Gift of Hope Scholarship recipient Kiersten Telzerow is thankful to The United Methodist Church for the opportunity to follow her father's example as a pastor.

"Some denominations do not give women the opportunity to be leaders," said Telzerow, a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. "The United Methodist Church not only offers positions for women, but [also] supports and empowers us. This has given me a platform to understand and recognize that the Holy Spirit does not give gifts based on gender. Because of this, I pursued my calling."

Telzerow majored in Christian ministries with a minor in leadership.  Keeping her future congregations healthy is the centerpiece of her education. She could not have attended Indiana Wesleyan without the Gift of Hope Scholarship made possible through United Methodist Student Day contributions.Now director of small groups for the Barracks Row site of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., Telzerow is also working on her master of divinity degree.

"The Gift of Hope Scholarship allows students to attend schools that equip them with an education essential for being a leader in today's culture," she said. "[I learned] about conflict resolutions, transformational leadership and other areas that help me take care of my parishioners."