A Social Experiment – The Omaha News
Omaha News

A Social Experiment – The Omaha News

By: Faith Staskiewicz, Reporter

OMAHA, Neb. – The National Student Loan Data System says the U.S. has reached over $1.76 trillion in debt as of 2022. As the number grows, so does the burden of the people that carry it. Nerd Wallet says the average amount of debt for a Bachelor’s degree in the U.S. is about $28,000 per individual.

However, the numbers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are lower. Vice Chancellor of Institutional Effectiveness and Student Success Rich Klein Ph.D. says the average student borrows about $21,000.

To understand how this debt affects student’s lives, I conducted a Social Experiment at UNO in which I asked students to choose between a Casey’s gift card and a Scooter’s gift card.

Fourth-Year UNO Student Jesus Jimenez chose the gas gift card because he says there are more uses for it than the Scooters card. Jesus says he has become more aware of his spending, so that he can pay for college.

“I feel like right now I’m actually battling with how I’m going to pay off the rest of my schooling,” says Jimenez, “I work, but even then, it’s kinda hard to save up when you have other bills to pay at the same time.”

Side-by-side graphs comparing the U.S. and UNO average Student Debt per individual. Photo taken February 17, 2023 by Faith Staskiewicz.

Third-Year UNO Student Olivia Whitaker also chose the Casey’s gift card. She says her dad loves Casey’s pizza, and wanted to surprise him with it. Olivia says her dad’s student debt is like a large weight to him, therefore, Olivia does not rely on him to pay for her schooling. Paying for college herself has restricted the choice of where she wanted to pursue her education.

Whitaker says, “Sometimes it’s nice to think about what it would have been like to go to Colorado or some other kind of school. I did not have the money and with everything my parents have talked about with financial debt I was to terrified to branch out and try.”

Tackling student debt can feel like scrounging for dollars. However, Financial Advisor Assistant and UNL Finance Major Meghan Fisher says to have hope overcoming this issue.

A Casey’s gift card and Scooters gift card used in the social experiment. Photo taken on February 17, 2023 by Faith Staskiewicz.

Meghan is a full-time student that also works 30 hours a week at her part-time job. She says that paying off loans can be daunting, but possible.

“I would suggest researching loan repayment options and options that can ensure you make the best decision for your financial situation,” Fisher says, “everybody is different. Creating a budget and sticking to that can definitely help manage your finances.”

Following a budget doesn’t mean giving up on enjoying life. Meghan also says to put aside some money to treat yourself, because it’s important to be happy to succeed in college.

UNO says students enrolling in the 2023-2024 academic year should complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid also known as FAFSA by June 1st, 2023. UNO says that 69% of all undergraduate students at UNO were awarded financial aid based on the most recent data available.

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