Student body president Andy Rodriguez said he has seen a lot of added stress on students from their loans.
Many times, he said they have to either sacrifice grades or defer valuable work experience at an internship to wait tables or use other means to help pay for their education and avoid student loan debt.
He added he has heard students going without eating some days, an issue which prompted the recent opening of the Feed-A-Bull food pantry on campus.
“College is stressful as it is,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of students have to face the reality of work and loans. It’s just one more thing to worry about.”
To combat student loan debt, Rodriguez was invited to speak on behalf of USF at a news conference Tuesday led by U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, who spoke about her push in Congress this session for a student loan reform bill that is expected to assist 1.4 million Floridians with student debt.
“College tuition has escalated in costs faster than housing, cars and, in a lot of cases, wages,” Castor said, according to the Tampa Tribune. “If you can refinance credit card debt or a loan for your boat while interest rates are low, you should be able to refinance your student loan.”
The bill, titled the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, would allow borrowers with federal loans issued prior to July 2015 to refinance at rates of about 3.86 percent.
For loans this year, undergraduates would be paying about 4.29 percent for direct subsidized loans, but graduates could be paying at a rate of 5.84 percent in unsubsidized loans. Those with PLUS loans borrow at 6.84 percent.
Rodriguez said he was also joined by student representatives from Hillsborough Community College and the University of Tampa to speak about the problem of student debt.
It is estimated that of the nation’s $1.2 trillion student loan debt, about $1 trillion comes from federal loans.
Additionally, the average debt of 2013 USF graduates was $24,107, which affected about 59 percent of that year’s graduates. That same year, the University of Tampa’s graduates averaged $33,567 in debt.
“Student’s shouldn’t have to deal with that,” Rodriguez said. “People see education as a commodity. It’s not — it’s a necessity.”
Rodriguez said he began at USF not needing loans, but after four years, much of his financial aid has dwindled, including his Bright Futures scholarship through the state.
He said his experience can be an example of the national debt issue as decreasing funding to higher education forces schools to drive up tuition rates, which in turn boosts the need for students to pay for education through federal loans.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” he said.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Castor’s bill has gained preliminary support in the House.
Tuesday’s conference follows President Barack Obama’s recent announcement to reform the 153-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a new website database, CollegeScorecard.ed.gov, that ranks the country’s universities by cost, graduation rates and salaries after graduation, as well as by student debt and loan repayment rates.