By Cristina Calvillo-Rivera

State Outreach Coordinator, Young Invincibles

Florida used to be known as a state with low college tuition rates, but not anymore. “The New Normal” in the Sunshine state is not so bright for students.

As the recent Florida College Access & Success Summit held in Tampa showed, student leaders are concerned about the rising cost of tuition.

Students Jean, Nanci, Sasha, Andrea and Melissa with moderator Araseli Martinez-Pena from Hillsborough County Public Schools share their college experiences with Summit attendees

High-achieving students at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College — Jean, Sasha, Nanci, Melissa and Andrea — who represented our diverse generation on a panel, all described one major challenge: figuring out how to cope with the rising cost of tuition, textbooks, childcare and how to manage their student loan debt.

And they worry that too many of their peers are less fortunate than them.

Sasha, a student who planned to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey, decided to stay in Florida to care for her siblings when her mother fell ill. Caring for family requires time and money and it was thanks to a scholarship, she said, that she was able to afford college in Florida.

Andrea, a student veteran and mother of four, has been able to stay in school because she received the GI Bill. She also lucked out in that she found a university program that assists with the cost of childcare, but she said many young parents lack the support that she benefits from.

Jean, the Student Government Association President and a first generation student, said he’s deeply concerned about how he, and his peers, will manage student loan debt. Florida students graduate with an average of $23,000 in student loan debt, and he said he’d like to see more education about loans and repayment programs.

The plight expressed by all of the panelists is similar to what I hear students face when I travel across Florida through my work at Young Invincibles.

Soaring tuition costs are a result of state disinvestment in higher education. Florida slashed its budget for higher education spending by 41 percent from 2007 to 2012, while tuition at its schools increased by 84 percent.

It’s time lawmakers paid attention to the struggles of students.

If you know other college students with similar stories, we encourage them to join our campaign at Young Invincibles to boost state investment in higher education, so that college can become affordable once again.


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