Student loan debt woes not fully solved by Senate deal

Daniel Satizabal, a senior majoring in civil engineering, will be graduating this August with $23,000 in student loan debt. He said he intends to borrow another $40,000 to do a two-year masters program, which he hopes will improve his chances of getting an engineering job right out of college.

Lashawn Paige, a senior majoring in criminology and mass communications, said she has accumulated a student loan debt of about $20,000. She predicts she will have to borrow another $11,000 to pay for her last year of school. Paige plans to attend law school after graduation.

While the deal the U.S. Senate reached Tuesday to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this Sunday may help students like Satizabal and Paige in the short-run, it takes away two federal subsidies to cover the $6 billion expense.

Undergraduates will have to start paying back their loans with interest as soon as they graduate without the six-month grace period they had before. Graduate students will only have the option to take out unsubsidized loans, paying for interest throughout their schooling.

The deal, however, only holds until next summer, at which point Satizabal, Paige and 7. 4 million other college students around the nation will likely have to pay the doubled federal loan interest rate of 6.8 percent, unless the government reaches another such deal.

In addition to the $23,000 Satizabal has taken out in both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, he said he received at least $2,000 in scholarships, $5,000 in Pell grants and the highest level of Florida Bright Futures every year as an undergraduate money that gave him just enough to live comfortably.

Theres books each book costs about an arm and a leg, he said. Then there is living. I have to pay rent. I have to pay (for) groceries, car insurance, gasoline and you cant just go to a college and not have any fun, so you have to go out once in a while.

But now Satizabal can only take out unsubsidized federal loans for his masters degree, and said he cant rely on his mother and brother his immediate family to help him.

They have financial problems of their own, Satizabal said. They also have to pay (for) their own groceries and pay their mortgage. My mom works at a deli in a Wal-Mart, and my brother was a customer service representative at Humana, but hes currently unemployed.

Satizabal said his family is working hard to make ends meet, leaving him on his own.

But while he is optimistic about his future, he said he worries whether he will be able to find a job right away to pay off his student loan debt.

I feel that so long as I find work, I can find a way to pay off the loans, he said. But thats the key: finding that job.

Satizabal is one of the 53 percent of USF undergraduates with federal student loan debt, Billie Jo Hamilton, director of University Scholarships and Financial Aid Services, said. About 35 to 40 percent of USF graduate students, she said, accept federal Stafford loans, and in the past few years, the total Stafford loans given out to USF students amounted to about $200 million.

Hamilton said though graduate students will only get unsubsidized loans starting in fall, they will be able to access Pell Grant money.

Its kind of like a pie, she said. If you increase something here, you have to take something away here.

The average debt for USF students is $21,000.

But while USF administrators heard last week from the Board of Governors that USFs average student debt is amongst the highest in the state, likely due to low four-year graduation rates, the climbing debt has students like Paige trying to complete their degrees as quickly as possible.

I am a full-time student, she said. I am taking five classes over the summer. Usually they allow four classes, but I had to go and get permission from the College of Arts and Sciences to take five classes. I am also working two jobs, so my schedule is really tight.

Paige works at the corporate office for AT&T and at a law firm. She also gets an annual church scholarship of $1,000. Paige started out with the 75 percent level of Florida Bright Futures, but the scholarship has gradually dwindled over the last three years.

Now I would say, I think they cover $75 per credit, which isnt very much considering tuition is almost $200 a credit, she said
Paige said she doesnt feel comfortable asking her family for money. Her mother and older sister are getting their masters degrees, and her younger brother is about to start college for the hard of hearing in Washington D.C. His tuition is about $11,000 a semester.

My dad he had two jobs, but he just lost one of them, Paige said. So its him and my mom working, and theres four out of five of us in universities. We all have tuition and a whole bunch of things to pay for.

Paige said she wants to graduate as early as possible because the longer she stays in school, the higher the tuition will become and the more debt she could put herself in.

But Hamilton said she doubts the deal will have much of an impact on students borrowing habits.

I dont think it will affect them at all, she said. Students are pretty much focused on paying what needs to be paid for, and Im not sure how attuned they are to whats going to happen four or five years down the road when they graduate.