The Economics of Education: Student loan debt in Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For many, the educational process doesn’t stop when a high school diploma is received.

Often times, college is on the mind of graduating seniors. And while which institution to attend may have already been decided, the path to a degree, and the costs of that journey, are not always anticipated.

Attending a four-year university is not cheap by most people’s standards, and although circumstances vary from student to student, financial aid typically plays a crucial role in higher education.

But with attending college in Nebraska carrying a price tag ranging from roughly $20,000 - $70,000 a year, depending on the school, how much debt are most students graduating with?

1011 News crunched the numbers.

According to data from the College Scorecard 2016, provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the median debt for students who graduate from the National American University in Bellevue is $33,523, the highest number in the state.

The median debt for students who attend Hastings College and Nebraska Wesleyan University, private institutions, sits at $27,000, while York College is at $26,540, and Midland University is $25,250.

Creighton University in Omaha carries a median debt of $23,250, and Doane University - Arts & Sciences, hovers around $22,159.

The University of Nebraska institutions carry slightly lower sums, as the median amount of debt for students is $21,500 at UNL, $20,700 at UNK, and $20,000 at UNO.

Western Nebraska Community College had the least debt for graduates with $7,223.

A variety of factors play into the amount of debt a college graduate will carry as they head into the job market, but the amount of financial aid, whether through scholarships, grants, or work study, can heavily influence the burden.

“Once (a student) becomes serious about a college they realize, most likely, for the first time, that college has a price tag attached to it and they can zero in on what that price is,” Les Monroe, Director of College Planning at EducationQuest, said. EducationQuest is a private, non-profit organization that provides free services that helps get students to college.

“And for some of our colleges, our public schools can run $20,000 - $30,000 a year, and our privates can run upwards to $60,000 - $70,000 a year. So when you have zeroed in on a school, you can zero in on a cost, and for the first time you are asking, ‘how do we pay for that.’”

The debt can add up quickly when attending college, and Monroe advises students to remember the term “responsible borrowing” when heading off of to school.

“So you need to think about what do you need as far as the amount and why do you need it,” he said. “That would be like borrowing money, as an adult, to take a vacation. You probably wouldn't want to take a vacation if that means putting it all on a credit card that you are not going to be able to pay off anytime soon.”

Some students, like Max Van Arsdall, who recently graduated from Lincoln Northstar High School, have been thinking about the financial aid process for quite sometime.

“Definitely financial aid was the first thing I considered,” said Van Arsdall, who will be attending UNL on a Regent Scholarship in the fall. “That was something that was always motivating me so I could get to that level, so I don’t have to worry about the money or debts, so when I can leave college I will have zero debts and be ready to go.”

Van Arsdall was able to keep college affordable through scholarships, however there are multiple ways to reduce the amount of debt upon graduation, according to Monroe.

"When it comes time to talk about the money there are only four types of funding available,” Monroe said. “Other than military reimbursement, we are looking for scholarships, grants, work study, which is campus employment, and then the student loans.”