Sen. Bill Nelson met with students from the University of Florida on Tuesday to gather personal stories related to his proposed legislation that would cut student-loan interest rates.
“The big barrier for me in passing this legislation is obviously the cost,” Nelson told the dozen or so students gathered. “I want you students to bolster my argument with your particular circumstances, and I will then tell stories as I’m trying to pass this legislation.”
Introduced to the Senate in July, the legislation would cap undergraduate interest rates at 4 percent, graduate rates at 5 percent and parent-loan rates at 6 percent.
The current law has a cap of 8.5 percent for undergraduates, 9.5 percent for graduate students and 10.5 percent for parent loans, Nelson said.
The legislation would also allow students to consolidate their loans as another way to lower cost.
“This is a cost that we have to bare as the United States government because the importance to us is to have an educated public to stay competitive in a global market place,” Nelson said.
While some students at the discussion noted that they do not have student loans, most said they were thinking about attending graduate school and will eventually have to take out loans.
Mario Agosto, a senior criminology student at UF, is hoping to attend law school, but he said he fears the cost of loans will get in the way.
“The thought of taking on loans, being a low-income student, is very scary — not only for me, but for my family,” he said.
Nelson said he has been meeting with students all over Florida during August to hear their stories about student loans.
The average loan for an undergraduate student at a Florida state university is about $24,000, Nelson said, but he has talked to undergraduate students who have more than $60,000 in debt. He also noted a lawyer who is $305,000 in debt and a Ph.D. student with $212,000.
Ian Miaksch, a junior public relations student who attended the meeting, said he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but worries student-loan debt may stand in his way.
“My dream would be to graduate, open up my own business and be an entrepreneur like my father,” Miaksch said. “But with $40,000 in student loans right out of college, I’m not going to be able to do that.”
The students at the discussion said they liked the idea of Nelson’s legislation for a lower interest-rate cap and options for loan consolidation.
One of them, Meghan Hanley, a graduate student in business management, said she is concerned about the younger generation not being able to attend undergraduate school because of the current caps.
“Right now,” Hanley said, “I think we’re running the risk of those students not taking that leap into education.”
U.S. student-loan debt totals $1.3 trillion, Nelson said.
Nelson said he did not know what the exact cost would be for this change in legislation, but said it is a necessary change to help society, no matter the cost.