Relieving the Burden
Hannah Beers was so set on attending Evangel University that four years ago in her senior year of high school, she applied to no other school.
Beers, 21, Evangel’s student body president, will graduate in May with a degree in advertising and public relations, with a concentration in political science. She knew she wanted to live her faith in public elected office; to achieve her goals, a university degree would be essential.
But she also knew she’d have to foot the bill for her higher education; although Evangel’s price tag is on the low end of private Christian universities, the cost for higher education today can still evoke sticker shock. The average cost of a year at a private U.S. college, excluding room and board, is $32,000, although the average student ends up paying $15,000, less than half of the tab.
The daughter of Jerry Beers, pastor of First Assembly of Steelville, Missouri, had been tracking the cost since she was 12 years old.
She remained confident of Evangel as her chosen school.
“I knew if God wanted me to be there, He’d provide a way for me,” Beers says. And four years on, she is poised to graduate almost completely debt-free.
Even in the face of ever-rising tuition, preparation can make such a goal attainable, according to Hona Amer, adjunct professor of personal finance, marketing, economics, and business at Evangel.
“Students have to be strategic in deciding where they’re going to attend,” Amer says. “The cost did impact me, but I saw the opportunity to be able to experience the community and the environment that Evangel offers to students. I tried to take a strategic approach.”
In 2007 Amer completed her undergraduate degree at Evangel debt free in just two and a half years. Her website and book, Smart Work U: Get Your Degree the Smart Way — Save Time & Money, detail how she achieved her goals.
Amer advocates planning for higher education in high school with Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses. Students who earn certain marks on the end-of-course AP exam can receive college credit; the latter simultaneously provides students with credits that count toward both high school and college diplomas.
The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers college credit for earning a certain score. The test costs $80, which contrasts to taking a class that typically costs more than $500 per credit hour.
“It’s a way to accumulate credits and do it at a reduced cost,” Amer says. Between AP, CLEP, and dual-credit classes, Amer earned 39 college credits, eliminating more than a year from her university stay.
She also urges students to decide their area of study carefully.
“Pick something that’s enjoyable but also employable,” Amer says. “You have to wrestle out the benefits of your degree and how to pay for it.” Another cost-cutting strategy she advocates is living at home.
Beers knew about financial aid sources, such as grants for children of AG pastors and the Evangel University Founders Scholarship. Corporations and charitable foundations offer other scholarships.
“Many schools offer specific departmental scholarships, but many times that information can be overlooked by students,” Amer says.
The counselor at the high school Beers attended gave her a CD containing 80 applications to local, state, regional, and national scholarships. That proved beneficial.
Beers devised a strategy to apply for every scholarship for which she qualified: Filling out two applications per weekend beginning September of her senior year of high school, she had enough to keep her busy the entire academic year.
“You have to be prudent and research,” Beers says. “Sometimes you don’t get to hang out with your friends because you’re filling out scholarship applications, but it pays off in the long run.”
Beers qualified for work-study employment through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through work-study, she secured a job in Evangel’s communications department. Her FAFSA application included a loan option with her student financial package. She secured loans for about 2 percent of her total school bill.
Beers has a freelance photography business. She has worked summers in a bank’s marketing department. For two weeks each summer she recruited potential Evangel students through AG summer camps, which gives her opportunity to interact with secondary students regarding where they will attend university.
“The number one thing they say is, ‘I don’t think I can afford that,’ ” Beers says. “That may be true, but there are options.”
Amer notes that funding higher education doesn’t have to be a fearful process. Proactive planning helps students set themselves up for minimal or no student loan burden.
“Draw up a plan and work that plan throughout the college process,” Amer says. “For most students, it’s realistic to have to work through school.”
According to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, those with bachelor’s degrees earned a median $43,000 in 2015. The reserve bank also stated that around 12 percent of graduates are delinquent on student loans. The Department of Education says over seven million borrowers have gone at least a year without making a student loan payment.
Pictured: Hannah Beers (left) and Hona Amer