By Bob Bacarella
Founder, President & Portfolio Manager
Monetta Financial Services, Inc.

If you told your clients there is an easy way to earn scholarship money that can cover up to a quarter of their child’s or grandchild’s college tuition, they may think it sounds too good to be true. And if you told them that this same program offers scholarships simply by opening an investment account with a participating fund family, bank or financial advisor, with no requirement to demonstrate financial need, athletic prowess or academic achievement, they’d really be skeptical. But the reality is, this program exists through the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program.

I’ve always been passionate about helping kids learn about money so they can make smart financial decisions when they’re older. I’ve taught financial literacy classes for kids for decades and even launched a fund, the Monetta Core Growth Fund (formerly the Monetta Young Investor Fund,) which strives to provide young investors with a diversified investment vehicle combined with financial education tools for kids and their parents.

As a way to help families pay for college, we formed a partnership with SAGE Scholars, Inc. in 2008. The SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards Program was established in 1995 to encourage more families to save for higher education and to help make college affordable to more students. A core group of schools created a points-based model—not unlike frequent flyer miles—to reward families who save for college. Today nearly 400 schools participate including top institutions such as Bradley University, Creighton University, University of Dayton, Rensselaer Polytechnic and Valparaiso.

What if a child chooses a school that isn’t in the program? No harm, no foul. Just because they signed up for the free, no-obligation SAGE program doesn’t mean they are required to attend a SAGE school. Every child is different. While SAGE is accepted at many terrific schools, a child may choose another route. It’s worth noting, however, that in the years since we’ve been involved with SAGE, the program has expanded significantly. Just because a school is not on the list today doesn’t mean it won’t be on the list when today’s fourth-grader is getting ready to graduate. An average of 20 new schools are added each year.

Nationally, more than 515,000 students are enrolled in the program through participating fund managers, banks and credit unions, insurers, financial planners and employers. Some 63,000 new students were added in 2017. Also in 2017, tuition Rewards Points valued at $80.7 million were submitted by SAGE high school seniors through 5,700 applications to 354 member colleges. That’s an average of 14,169 points representing $3,542 per year. The use of Tuition Rewards is limited to full-time, undergraduate tuition at participating colleges. Tuition Rewards are remitted as a reduction to the participating college’s full tuition bill—and NOT awarded in cash.

Since our partnership with SAGE began, Monetta has sponsored 768 students in the SAGE program. In 2017 alone, Monetta shareholders earned approximately 900,000 points through their enrollment in SAGE. And while we’ve seen success with the program, I’d love to see more students and families participate to support their efforts in saving for college.

Here’s how it works at our firm:

  • When a college saver opens a Monetta Core Growth Fund account (individual, joint, or custodial) with a minimum investment of just $100 or an automatic investment program of just $25 per month, they qualify to enroll in the SAGE Scholars Tuition Reward program.
  • To earn SAGE tuition rewards points, they simply complete a separate registration at this link. Anyone can register—an individual, parent or grandparent. When they register, they designate one or more children as recipient of the tuition credits; 1 credit equals $1. Just by registering a student, 500 credits are awarded.
  • Credits accumulate automatically via SAGE’s point system:
Every birthdate ages 1-13 1,000 points each year
Every birthdate ages 14-17 2,000 points each year
Completion of profile form during the student’s junior year 2,500 points
  • A student can accumulate up to $21,500 in tuition credits
  • SAGE tuition credits can be used at nearly 400 private colleges and universities throughout the US. Students can earn up to one-quarter of the cost of any one year’s tuition. Over four years, that could cover a full year of tuition.
  • When students apply to a SAGE school, they notify the school of the SAGE credits and are awarded tuition credit.
  • There is no obligation to attend a SAGE school, and nothing is lost by signing up.

While SAGE doesn’t fully cover the costs of college, it does enable students to offset college expenses by up to $21,500. So I like to think that those who actively participate in SAGE could potentially earn enough points and tuition rewards credits to come close to graduating without any debt!

Not long ago, a shareholder called me and told me his son was attending a SAGE school and he was kicking himself for not having signed up. I don’t ever want to get a call like that again.

Important Information

The portion of the Fund that invests in underlying ETFs that track the Index will be subject to certain risks which are unique to tracking the Index. By investing in ETFs, you will indirectly bear your share of any fees and expenses charged by the underlying funds, in addition to indirectly bearing the principal risks of the funds. The Fund may make short-term investments, without limitation, for defensive purposes, which investments may provide lower returns than other types of investments.