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Students share loan fears with senator

Students gathered together to share burdensome tales about paying off higher education loans, as the specter of doubled loan interest rates loomed over a conversation moderated by one of Floridas chief delegates.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla, met with about 35 students in the Marshall Student Center Sabal Room on Thursday to hear their difficulties paying down debt. He said he plans to shares their stories on the Senate floor Monday to thwart the expiration of a federal subsidy that allows students to pay half the actual interest associated with federal Stafford student loans. Democrats and Republicans in both houses support extending the subsidy, but the parties disagree on where the money should come from to fund it.

Interest rates on new loans would automatically double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, beginning July 1 if the subsidy isnt extended. One potential solution was already passed through the House, however, last week President Obama threatened to veto the Republican-sponsored bill, because it would fund the subsidy by taking funding from cervical and breast cancer screenings, diabetes treatment and childhood immunizations.

Obama and Nelson both favor a Senate proposal that would fund the subsidy for one year by prohibiting small business owners earning more than $250,000 annually from benefiting from a loophole that allows them to avoid paying payroll taxes, thus increasing federal revenue.

Nelson said a doubled interest rate would force a loan of more than $21,000, for example, to accumulate more than $5,000 in additional interest over 10 years.

The stories Ive heard have been heart-wrenching, he said. In one case, a young lady, both she and her mother a single mom going back to school (were) both going back to school. And of course the difference between 6.8 percent and 3.4 was going to be a huge financial burden.

Christopher Cano, a graduate student studying public administration who received two bachelors degrees from USF, shared a similar story with Nelson.

I come from a working class family, he said. My dads a barber and my mom worked full time to put herself through nursing school. Shes a nurse now, (but) shes going to school as well, because the States passed new regulations saying if she doesnt have her bachelors by 2018, shes going to lose her job.

Cano said he will probably accumulate about $150,000 in student loan debt by the time he graduates.

Austin Prince, a sophomore majoring in microbiology and Chinese, said he is taking 19 credits a semester so he can graduate in four years. He plans to spend four years in medical school and an additional four years to learn a specialty after, but said he has found himself reconsidering the path he wants to take because of financial constraints.

Im going to have 12 years where Im going to have to borrow continuously, because although my parents saved a little bit of money for me to go to school, thats quickly run out, he said. And theyre in that nice little gray area where theyre making slightly too much for me to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to pay for these fees.

Nelson said many students like Prince are forced to let go of dreams because of the need to make money in the present, but said over the course of time, the more education that you have, the more likely (youll have) a higher income.

He also addressed other issues, including the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants who moved to the U.S. at ages 15 or younger to be placed on a path to citizenship if they enter college or join the military after high school.

Nelson, who assured students that he and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, had a good working relationship, took a few digs at Rubios recent modified proposal of the act, which does not guarantee citizenship for students who enroll in college or enlist in the military.

Are they going to sit here in legal limbo? Nelson asked.

Alison Giron, a senior majoring in biology, thanked Nelson supporting the DREAM Act, which she is conducting her thesis on and became familiar with through first-hand experience.

I was born in another country and raised here and I didnt know that I wasnt American until senior year (of high school) when I was denied Bright Futures for not being a resident, she said. Ive started here in the first grade. I went to first grade, middle school (and) high school. It was really rough knowing that Ive been here all my life and I cant go to school.

While Giron said she was eventually admitted into school after her grandmother, a U.S. citizen, claimed her as a dependent, friends of hers have not been as fortunate.

A lot of my friends dont have visas and dont have a way of going to school, so they … join the army, she said. Another option is to get married, and I have a lot of friends who take that option.

Rubio has not yet formalized his version of the DREAM act into a bill, although hes anticipated to do so. While Nelson said he believes the DREAM Act should be used as a path to citizenship, as opposed to Rubios version which would only allow legalization of status, he said Thursday hes open to considering Rubios ideas in an open discussion.