KEARNEY – Tina Smets is a busy mother of three.
She works nights at the Alley Rose restaurant in Kearney, opposite of her husband Aaron’s schedule at the local Baldwin Filters plant so they can save money on child care.
Like many young families, finances are a major factor in their decision-making – and college tuition never seemed to fit into their plans.
Although Smets enjoys her job at the Alley Rose, where she’s worked the past decade, the 31-year-old recently started to realize she wanted something more.
“What am I going to do next?” the Kearney native asked herself.
She found the answer while scrolling through her Facebook feed after work. That’s where she discovered Nebraska Promise, a new University of Nebraska program that covers tuition for in-state students from low- and middle-income families.
“I just decided to apply,” Smets said. “It was seriously a 3 a.m., spur-of-the-moment decision.”
Announced in April by University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, Nebraska Promise covers up to 30 credit hours per academic year for full-time undergraduate students whose families have an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less or who qualify for the federal Pell Grant. The program is offered to returning, transfer and new students, both on-campus and online, at any NU campus.
“President Carter’s emphasis on affordability, coupled with University of Nebraska quality, is important for both Nebraska families and the future of the state,” said Kelly Bartling, vice chancellor for enrollment management and marketing at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, when families are adjusting to fluctuating sources of income and making decisions about investing their resources for their future, the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s value and flexibility to give students numerous options in traditional and online learning have increased interest and applications. We continue to do everything we can to keep the promise of a college education within reach.”
The University of Nebraska’s previous need-based financial aid program, Collegebound Nebraska, covered tuition for qualifying Pell-eligible Nebraska students. Nearly 3,000 students are attending NU tuition-free under that program. The expanded Nebraska Promise will cover approximately 1,000 additional current and future NU students.
Smets is one of more than 1,600 current and prospective UNK students who qualify for the program. Without Nebraska Promise, she wouldn’t be attending a university.
“I think it’s important for everyone to realize there’s an option out there that’s not going to put their family in a hole financially,” Smets said.
Applying for Nebraska Promise is “as easy as it could possibly be,” she said.
The program requires no separate application beyond the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students must take at least 12 credit hours per semester and maintain a 2.5 GPA to retain their eligibility.
Smets credited the UNK Admissions and Financial Aid offices for making the application process smooth and stress-free.
“The grant is already in my account waiting for me to sign up for classes,” she said. “Everything was super simple.”
Starting this fall, Smets will study business administration with a management emphasis through UNK’s online program, giving her the flexibility to balance school, work and home life. She’s already assisting with the bookkeeping at Alley Rose and hopes a four-year degree will land her a higher-paying position that also supports the community, potentially at a school or hospital.
For anyone else who’s thinking about college, but unsure whether they can afford it, the 31-year-old mother of three offers this piece of advice:
“Just go for it.”