U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor held a different kind of coffee shop talk in Tampa on Wednesday, discussing the student debt crisis with the people it directly affects - a group of college students and graduates.
Due to tuition prices rising much faster than the rate of inflation, students have increased their reliance on student loans to assist them with obtaining higher education. As a result, more students are graduating with debt.
Castor says that such debt is detrimental to the economy as a whole.
“(Graduates) have to delay purchasing a vehicle, they have to delay purchasing a home, they can't make the investments in growing a business or attending graduate school,” said Castor.
Florida college graduates have an average of $23,000 in student loan debt. The current policies in place prevent them from refinancing their interest rates or filing for bankruptcy.
"I've lived most of my business career with the 'wolf at the door,'" said graduate Kostas Stoilas, who graduated with a masters degree from the University of Tampa and is currently trying to run a business while also paying off his student loans.
At UT, roughly 72 percent of students receive federal student loans, getting an average of nearly $6,000 per year. The average amount of student debt upon graduation is $31,000.
UT Student Body President Aislinn Sroczynski is an aspiring law school student. The student loan policy has her worrying how she’s going to pay back her loans.
“I don't want to have to compromise my career, or my passion, or why I went to law school in the first place just because I can't afford my loans,” said Sroczynski.
If passed, one of Castor's bills would cap interest rates for loans. Another would re-authorize the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which provides small student loans to low-income students.
The program, which serves about 350,000 students per year, recently expired due to Congress not reauthorizing it in time. The loan provided opportunities for students who come from families with low income, with 47% of those recipients coming from families with incomes less than $40,000. Castor is asking for it to be extended for the sake of the students.
“College education in America is supposed to be that ladder of opportunity – if you come from a modest background, you can attend college and break out,” said Castor of the Perkins loan. “If the Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Perkins loan, they’re in essence saying (students are) not our priority.”
At the University of South Florida, students have to pay their full tuition and fees near the beginning of the year.
Student Government is trying to initiate a monthly payment plan in order to give the students the chance to pay off their tuition as they accumulate their finances.
Student leaders are worried that their peers do not realize the impact their loans will have on them post-graduation.
“I did not expect that my payment plans (post-graduation) would be near the same cost of (rent),” said USF Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine.
UT Student Body Vice President Troy Schneider hopes that Congress will put the students first on their list of priorities.
“We are the future of this country, and for everyone to be able to (afford to) go to college (in order) to get a really good job afterwards without having to worry about loans should be one of their top priorities," said Schneider.