Students navigate financial challenges, find hope through friendly UNK office

"The help I received from the Financial Aid team is the reason I will be graduating this May," says Agustin Ruvalcaba, who is studying wildlife biology at UNK.
“The help I received from the Financial Aid team is the reason I will be graduating this May,” says Agustin Ruvalcaba, who is studying wildlife biology at UNK.

KEARNEY – Money was always tight for Agustin Ruvalcaba when he was growing up.

Coming from a lower-middle-class family in Shelby, Nebraska, he knew at a young age that scholarships would be necessary if he wanted to attend college.

Unfortunately, he didn’t earn a big scholarship like his older sister. And when his father used a pension to open his dream restaurant, their family became ineligible for most grants. Ruvalcaba was stuck in a problem many students face. The family couldn’t afford college tuition but made too much to be eligible for common need-based grants.

“I was struggling to find a solution, but once I went to the Financial Aid Office, they helped me sort things out,” said Ruvalcaba, a wildlife biology major at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Ruvalcaba was drawn to UNK after seeing his older sister have a great experience in Kearney. The number of student organizations and inviting Fraternity and Sorority Life program made him feel accepted right away. None of it would have been possible without a team of financial aid experts who took time to hear his story.

At UNK, a small Financial Aid staff meets regularly to solve problems for students. In higher education, one of the most difficult challenges to overcome is navigating financial aid. The process can be frustrating and exhausting. That’s when a qualified team of financial aid experts is a tremendous resource.


Amid COVID-19 challenges and economic uncertainty, many families similar to Ruvalcaba’s are being impacted by financial struggles. UNK’s Financial Aid team spends a lot of time connecting with students and their families. They hear their stories and understand their challenges.

It takes a personal touch. UNK prides itself on making those individual connections. You’re not a number at UNK, said Financial Aid Director Mary Sommers, who has worked in financial aid for 33 years.

“One of our greatest pleasures in the Office of Financial Aid is developing relationships with our students and their families over several years. That’s the benefit of having a stable staff that is committed to UNK and its mission. We really come to know our students,” said Sommers.


UNK is dedicated to finding individualized solutions to meet the needs of each student. At UNK, 80% of incoming freshmen receive scholarship or grant money. Scholarships include merit-based, need-based and others. Student or parent loans, work study opportunities and grants offer other funding sources but often come with a learning curve of their own.

To really understand a student’s situation, it takes a one-on-one conversation. At UNK, the Financial Aid team listens to the needs of families and offers opportunities that students might not realize exist.

“Working with people in the Financial Aid Office was like working with a friend who knew exactly what to say when times were tough. Money was always a stressful subject for me, and each time I interacted with them I received the help I needed,” said Ruvalcaba.

UNK helped Ruvalcaba with multiple small scholarships early on, then continuing education scholarships after his freshman year. Now, he’s set to graduate in a few months and plans to pursue a career in herpetological research.

“The help I received from the Financial Aid team is the reason I will be graduating this May,” said Ruvalcaba. “Without it, I truly do not believe I would be earning a degree.”


UNK offers the lowest university tuition in the state. Combine that with a high-quality University of Nebraska education with prosperous outcomes, and the value is already there. Receiving additional assistance to cover costs makes UNK more accessible for all students. It’s a big hurdle, and UNK has a strong history of providing the boost many families need.

UNK’s Financial Aid team is ready to hear your story.

“Our staff has worked with students in many difficult situations over the years. We do our best to provide options and opportunities for our students based on their unique circumstances,” Sommers said.

Students should become one of those familiar voices in the Financial Aid Office.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your entire future and financial security could benefit greatly, said Ruvalcaba.

“College is expensive and financial aid is a lifesaver. It’s heartwarming and reassuring the way they want to help.”