An Affordable Education: The Symbiotic Worksheet

Union College works hard to remain affordable, offering a tuition rate lower than most private colleges, and even lower than out-of-state tuition at most public universities. But Union's relatively low cost is still more than many families can handle on their own. 

The good news is, they don't have to.

Financing an education requires a partnership between a family, student, government and college. Below, we'll break down how each partner can play a role in contributing to the cost. The video above explains how this partnership can work for you, and the content below walks you through much of the same information.

You may be wondering if a degree is worth it. Statistically, the answer is a resounding “yes!” According to numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, a person with a bachelor's degree will, on average, earn $26,000 per year more than someone with only a high school degree. Assuming a 45-year career, that adds up to $1.17 million more. And the more education a person gets, the higher their average income.

High school diploma Some college Associate's Bachelor's Master's Doctorate Advanced professional degree
$31,283 $32,555 $39,506 $58,613 $70,856 $99,697 $125,019

And it's not just that college graduates earn more, they also enjoy more job security. During December of 2010, a month marked by particularly high unemployment, the jobless rate among high school graduates was 9.8 percent, but for college graduates, it was only 4.6 percent.

Of course, college isn't just about the money. Various studies indicate that college graduates are more likely to live healthy, active and happy lives, engaging with the arts, politics and the great outdoors at a higher rate. One fascinating study (PDF) even suggests women under the age of 40 with college degrees are more likely to get married and less likely to divorce than those without degrees. We could go on and on; the point is, the broader horizons, and the critical thinking and analysis learned in college translate into a better standard of living in innumerable ways.

The only real downside to a college degree is the upfront cost, but considering all the benefits, can you afford not to invest in your child or yourself?

In the next sections, we'll show you how that upfront cost can be easily handled with the family, student, government and college working together. Grab some scratch paper and a calculator and follow along, start with a total estimated cost of attendance of $27,900 (2013-2014 school year) and watch that number melt away as we walk you through sources of funding.

(Click the tabs above to navigate. Start with "Family.")


We know you aren't statistically average; no one ever is. But for the sake of this how-to guide, we're going to assume you're a fairly average American family. By that we mean you earn less than $80,000 (filing taxes alone) or less than $160,000 (jointly filing), and live in an area at neither extreme of the cost-of-living scale. We're assuming your teenage or early-twenties son or daughter eats like most people their age: a lot. We also are guessing they like to take hot showers and occasionally leave a light on.

The cost of kids

If our assumptions are anywhere near correct, it's likely you spend around $500 per month on expenses Union will be providing once they leave for college. These are things like food, electricity and water which scale with the number of people consuming them, and we're not counting expenses like clothes and iPods they may still beg you for no matter where they are. In other words, over the course of the nine-month academic year, you are likely to save $3,600 at home for expenses included in Union's total cost. Why not put that money toward their bill?

How much in monthly savings can you invest in education?


Have you already been saving for their college tuition? Two-thirds of American families do, averaging $2,676 per year starting from when the child is three-years old onward. If you have a college savings plan for you child, divide the amount saved by four then add in the amount you were putting in the savings fund each year and can now direct toward tuition. 

How much have you saved for tuition?

Tax incentives

Most families will also qualify for a new higher education tax credit of up to $2,500 per year from 2013-2014. The credit only covers tuition, fees and book expenses, and matches the first $2,000 spent dollar-for-dollar and thereafter at 25 percent up to $500. In other words, if you pay for $4,000 or more for tuition, fees and books, you will get a $2,500 tax credit that can be re-invested into tuition.  

Will you re-invest the full $2,500 in education?

The WHOLE family

Of course, parent's aren't the only family members who may want to help out. A student's grandparents and other extended family members are often happy to put something toward educating the next generation. It's important to note, however, that money paid directly to the college from grandparents may be considered income for the student by the IRS and effect the student's eligibility for need-based government assistance. To avoid this, family members may give up to $11,000 a year as a non-taxed gift to the parents who can, in turn, put the money on their child's bill. Since this money is not taxable income, it will not affect federal aid.

Can you expect help from extended family, like grandparents?

The church family

Finally, “family” isn't always defined genetically, most of our students also have church families. Union College encourages your local church to participate in this educational partnership by matching gifts of up to $3,000 from church scholarship funds at a rate of 50 percent, for a maximum possible match of $1,750 per year from Union. The matched scholarship money cannot be donated by the immediate family of the student, churches must complete a matching grant form, and they must comply with IRS regulations for scholarships. 

Will your church family help fund a scholarship?

Everyone's total will be different for this section, but most families find they can fund between 25 and 50 percent of the total cost of college without significantly adding to their monthly budget.

Now click the "Student" tab    


Your education, your earnings

Most Union College students work part-time during the academic year and often full-time during the summers. It's not just about the money. In today's job market, it's never too early to start getting experience, building a resume and compiling a portfolio. Plus, one study found that students who worked 1-20 hrs a week in college got better grades than those who didn't work at all (see article). Working helps students learn time management and responsbility. But it's also about the money.

Union's summer break lasts 14 weeks, and even assuming a two week vacation, students can easily work 450 hours during the summer. At Nebrasksa minimum wage of $8/hr, that results in $3,600. 

Union also offers matching funds for earnings from summer ministries. Students who apply money earned at an Adventist summer camp to their tuition bill receive 100% percent match up to $1,500. Students who work as literature evangelists for the summer have an even better match—100 percent up to $2,000. Considering that both of these summer ministries also pay for many of the students living expenses during the summer, it's hard to find a better way to pay for college.

Most Union College students also work during the school year, the majority on-campus and some in the Lincoln community. Student workers consistently report they feel their jobs help them apply and extend what they learn in the classroom, and campus employers work hard to make student work meaningful and educational, teaching valuable skills like communication, adaptibility and problem solving.

Students shouldn't work more than 20 hours a week, and many find even half-time employment is too much while trying to balance coursework and a social life. Most students fall somewhere between eight and 15 hours a week during the school year. How many hours do you plan to work during the school year? You can find earnings estimates here.

How much of your education can you pay for from your own wages?

A penny saved, a penny earned

Paying for college isn't just about the money you earn, but also the money you don't spend. For example, a student who takes six years to graduate will pay more than 150 percent for college of what a student who graduates in four years will pay. Part of your job, as the student, is to stay on track and graduate as soon as possible to avoid increased expenses. 

Here are a few key components research shows help a student graduate on time:

  1. Choose a major before you start. Students who pick a major during their freshman year or earlier graduate sooner, even if it's not the major they eventually graduate with. If you don't know your major yet, there are tests and activities during New Student Orientation each year to help.
  2. Participate! Students involved in campus life, whether athletics, clubs, student government or campus ministries tend to get better grades and are more likely to graduate on time.
  3. Live in the residence halls. Students who live on campus also tend to get higher grades and complete their degrees. It makes sense when you realize the people around you share the same goal and your classmates live just across the hall.

Many first year students get derailed by credit cards and overdrafts. For most, college is the first time they have their own bank accounts and credit cards, and far too many learn the hard way how quickly debt adds up. Misuse of credit cards can lead to more stress, to taking semesters off, and paying much more for things than the price on the price tag. Talk to your parents about how credit cards work and how to avoid overdrafts. Even if it means your dorm room isn't decorated the way you want it or you just order water when your friends invite you out to eat, small sacrifices are worth it when your goal is getting an education.

Another important way to avoid spending more money than you planned on is by eating healthfully. Prices in Union Market, the on-campus dining service, are structured so that healthy choices are cheaper. Adding vegetables to the plate reduces the price of everything else on the plate as well, and the easiest way to save money is choosing water rather than juice or smoothies. Simple choices can not only save you money, but also keep you healthy, which has its own academic and social benefits. 

Will you do your part to keep costs low?

Apply for scholarships

Finally, you can also help pay for college by applying for scholarships from foundations, corporations and other groups. Literally billions of dollars in scholarships are given away each year, and you never know what you may qualify for unless you try. Finding and applying for scholarships can takes time and effort, but services like FastWeb and the College Board help get you started.   

Do you already have an outside scholarship?

Now click the "Union College" tab.


On average, 23 percent of the cost of each student's education at Union College is actually paid for by alumni, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other donors. This support comes to students in many ways, whether through updated equipment, selling food in Union Market at a loss, or more directly, in scholarships and grants. When we say this is our gift to you, we mean that not just as a college, but as alumni and believers in the mission of Union College.

Union College has packaged together its scholarships and grants in a predictable form to make planning for college easier. There are three questions:

  1. What was your high school GPA on a 4.0 scale?
  2. What was your ACT or SAT score?
  3. Have you filled out the FAFSA?

With those answers in hand, you can find out approximately how much you qualify for in scholarships on this page. Of course, you're not just planning for one year, but four. As long as you maintain a 2.0 (C) GPA, you will receive 50 percent of what you qualify for your first year each year thereafter. That means even students who receive the middle tier of merit scholarships will still have nearly a quarter of their total cost of college paid by the college over the four-year period.

Union also has limited funds available for families who need more help. These are only disbursed after other options have been explored, and are one more excellent reason to schedule a meeting with a student finance advisor. 

Now click the "Goverment" tab.

A well-educated population is in everyone's best interest. The government knows this, and offers two main forms of assistance in addition to the tax credits discussed earlier: grants and loans. 

A grant does not need to be repaid, a loan does. Eligibility for federal assistance is based on the income of both the parents and student unless the student is 24 years old or older or is married before filing the FAFSA for that year. 

We can not overstress the importance of filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is the key to finding out how much you qualify for in government assistance. Even if you don't think your family qualifies, fill it out anyway; Union offers a $5,500 grant to students who don't qualify for any other assistance but have filled out the FAFSA. 

You can find information about federal grants and loans here, but the best way of navigating through the laws and regulations is to talk to a student finance advisor. Contact Student Financial Services to set up an appointment.

We can, however, share a few statistics in this article. 

  • 38 percent of Union students receive federal grants, averaging $2,567 annually.
  • 68 percent take out student loans. Those who do average of $5,275 annually, or in other words, pay for about a fifth of their total education with future earnings.  

Student loans enable greater future earnings, and therefore are considered "good debt," an investment in the future. However, not all student loans are created equal, and it's important to discuss ways to minimize interest payments with your student finance advisor.