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Possibilities Of Student Loan Forgiveness, Florida Tuition Increases Produce Cloudy Outlook

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College students study in a lab at the University of South Florida Tampa library.

Ideas for college students by legislators offer contradictory ideas.

For the first time in 10 years, Florida public university tuition could increase as part of the new state Senate President’s plan to meet a shortfall in state revenues.

On the other hand, President-elect Joe Biden’s support for forgiving some student debts could mean better access to higher education for some Floridians.

But it’s not clear yet what these conflicting ideas might mean for Florida university students.

For several years, Florida colleges and universities have been ranked by some as being among the best educational institutions in the country — yet the state’s public universities have the country’s second lowest undergraduate tuition and fees.

But if the potential increases that new Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson suggested in Tallahassee this week come to be, that could change.

During comments shortly after the Trilby Republican assumed his new position Tuesday, he talked about what the state must do to address an estimated $5 billion reduction in state revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to potentially raising tuition at the state's public universities, Simpson floated the idea of cuts to the state’s K-12 system. While the state has restored some of the public school funding that was slashed during the 2008 recession, it hasn’t reached its pre-recession funding levels.

Florida is already low on the national ranking for public education funding, and Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, warns that any such budget cuts could result in a lower standard of K-12 education.

"Education remains one of the keys to prosperity and success, so I hope we can fill budgetary shortfalls without further straining our public schools or reducing the quality of education our students deserve," Farmer told The News Service of Florida in a text message.

Simpson’s thoughts about raising college tuition run opposite to ideas brought up by his counterpart in the Florida House.

In an effort to provide incentive for increased interest in high-demand jobs, new House Speaker Chris Sprowls proposed tuition discounts for students who enroll in courses associated with careers that reflect Florida’s economic needs.

“We shouldn’t be subsidizing, as taxpayers, every degree, to the same degree,” the Palm Harbor Republican told The News Service of Florida Tuesday. “I think we need to figure out what it is that is important for our state, what pushes us forward economically speaking, and there should be an incentive for universities to want students to be in those degrees. And not all of those degrees should be funded at the same level."

At the same time, President-elect Joe Biden is behind some level of student loan forgiveness.

NPR reported this week that “Biden repeated his support for a provision of the HEROES Act…(that) calls for the federal government to pay off up to $10,000 in private, nonfederal student loans for "economically distressed" borrowers.“

Other U.S. Senate Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are pushing for larger relief that could potentially cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt.

One argument backers of such moves make is that any reduction of student loans or college tuition could make higher education more accessible, regardless of a student's economic status.

Supporters also hope cancelling or minimizing debt would help young people eventually set up households, build families, and run businesses that could all contribute to economic improvement.

But others feel that cancelling student debt aids those already at an advantage, as people with college degrees usually earn more money.

More information on definitive plans and what they could mean for Florida, as well as its colleges and students, could come as early as January 2021 — supporters for debt reduction want it to be one of Biden’s first moves after inauguration. Florida’s 2021 legislative session is scheduled to start March 2.

Additional information courtesy of The News Service of Florida.

Deanna Lampasona Colon is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for fall 2020.
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