UNL graduates borrow less

Story by Zach Revense

It would be easy to walk away with mountains of debt in an undergraduate degree, but the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid Office is finding that students and their parents aren’t using all the loan money offered them.

Over the course of a student’s time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about $27,000 in loan money is made accessible, excluding parent loans.  The 2011-2012 academic year found that students are only leaving with an average of $20,937 signed in their name.

Heidi Wall, 22, is a hospitality restaurant tourism management major and will be graduating in December.  She will be leaving with a little more than $21,000 in student debt.

“After my freshman year my mom realized we didn’t have to accept all the loan money,” Wall said.  “I’ve still borrowed more than I’d like, but I needed it.”

Outside tuition, Wall has used her financial aid for a study abroad in Europe, and for living expenses.

Heidi Wall pays attention to the money coming in and out of her pocketbook.

Director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid Craig Munier says that federal aid should be used as an opportunity to get involved or go on study abroad trips.

“You won’t get another opportunity to get to know yourself in this way as an adult,” Munier said. “If you’re working so much that you’re to stressed to get involved, you could be loosing out on an experience that won’t come again.”

He also warns about borrowing.  He said that it’s still important to live frugally and not expect the same lifestyle a student would have with their parents.  Munier said extravagances like top tier cable or constant eating-out have a zero return on investment.

Students still feel the anxiety of paying back loans, especially with national economic woes.

In Santa Monica, Calif., 24-year-old Spencer Lee works as a producer and sports anchor for the local newspaper’s online webcast.  He graduated from UNL in 2009 largely above the norm with $37,500 in loans.

Before he moved from Nebraska he says he could indulge a little by going out with his friends on the weekends.  In California he says he has to be a lot more aware of his finances.

“I’m making more…but taxes are higher,” said Lee.

Now he’s making just the minimum payments for his three loans.

Munier says with that the rate students are defaulting is low at 3.6% from 2010, the last reported year, but that there is an expectation for it to go up.

“With problems in the economy we expect the default rate to raise a little,” Munier said.

Lee and Wall both feel that living within your means is the answer for people still in school.

“It’s not worth it in the end,” said Wall.  “It catches up with you in the end.”