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The Faces of the GOP's Failed Higher Education Policies: Stories from Across Florida

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Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington are making it harder to afford higher education, and students are speaking out

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Following a new report showing that two-thirds of college graduates will leave school with debt and a new video released by the Florida Democratic Party exposing how Romney's economic policies would cut Pell Grants and work study positions for students, the Florida Democratic Party today released The Faces of the GOP's Failed Higher Education Policies: 4 Stories from Florida students from across the state which highlight how Republican's in the legislature and in Congress are spiking tuition for students and making it harder for middle class families to afford higher education. 

And while Republicans in Tallahassee and GOP Congressman like Steve Southerland and Allen West are hurting our students, Florida's college and university leaders are speaking out — background and the stories below. 

The Faces of the GOP's Failed Higher Education Policies: Stories From Across Florida

“I am fed up with the Republican Party readily slashing student aid so they can pay for tax breaks for corporations and billionaires. When I applied for college my senior year of high school, I picked all Florida schools because I qualified for Florida aid, like Bright Futures and the Florida Resident Access Grant. Because of this aid, combined with federal Stafford subsidized loans, I was able to go to my dream school University of Tampa. Over the past four years, I have watched my Florida aid decrease, despite rising tuition costs. Over the summer, Republican lawmakers opposed legislation to keep the federal loan interest rate from doubling. Millions of students like me are at risk of not getting the education we deserve because of the Republican Party's policies.” –Jessica McCarron, President of the University of Tampa Democrats.

“I graduated high-school with a 4.2 weighted GPA and over a hundred hours of community of service. I worked hard for that, and in return I was made a promise. That promise, as I understood it, was this: Work hard. Be excellent. Show the state of Florida, and the nation, that you’re concerned about your future, show them that you have the potential to rise to great heights. And if you do that, they’ll make sure that money doesn’t stop you from being all that you can. 

But for years now, the Republicans in Washington and the Republicans in Tallahassee have both been doing their best to break that promise. They have appropriated less money to education, voted to cut Pell Grants and lowered the cost-per-credit hour covered by Bright Futures. And in place of these programs, which are so vital to the education of myself and millions of other young people like me, these same people have offered us debt and more debt. Republicans in Congress voted to let the interest rates on the loans they have forced us to turn to double this year. And why? So they could continue tax breaks for Big Oil. I’ve heard of a lot of poor students; I can’t remember the last time I heard of a poor oil executive.           

I’m sick of it. This is not just a call to action: it is a warning. The youth of this country does pay attention. We do know. And we will act. This November we will keep marching forward, keep marching toward the Bright Future once promised to us. And I want the Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington to know exactly where there road ends- at the polls.” – Colton Canton, President of the UCF College Democrats.           

 

"Being a Senior at Florida State University I have seen the changes in Higher Education funding directly play out in my own life. Upon starting at Florida State I had been promised the Bright Futures scholarship since at least 7th grade, however, even while me and my classmates have gone through college the specifics of the program have changed. Throughout High School, this program was an inspiration for me to go to school, because I knew it was something my parents wouldn’t be able to afford. Due to the changes in this program, the scholarship doesn’t cover the cost of my classes, which is why I depend on other aid such as private scholarships, Pell Grants, and federal student loans. The private scholarships only account for a small portion, but the Pell Grant has been an important part of my aid package throughout my education, helping to cover the costs of the things Bright Futures doesn’t, like my books and compliance with the university’s health insurance requirements. While both Bright Futures and the Pell Grant help me immensely, there are still other costs of living for my rent, utilities, food, etc., therefore, I made what I think is a worthy investment in my future by deciding to take out student loans.

 The thought of having to pay them back with a higher interest rate is upsetting to me because from I didn’t have a choice, but to take out these loans if I wanted to continue my education. I have even worked part-time on campus since my Sophomore year to help better my financial situation, but still found that I needed student loans as the cost of my education rose and my Bright Futures didn’t keep pace. " – - Matty Budesa, President of the FSU College Democrats.

 

 

“As a student at Florida International University, it is terrifying to see how the priorities of Republican legislators have shifted away from securing the future of our national and state education systems.

They are continuously moving away from benefiting middle and lower class students, while giving tax breaks and subsidies to big corporations and big oil industries. For some reason, the Republican legislators do not see that we are America's future. We are the next scientists, engineers, architects, doctors, and business owners of this nation, and we can come from anywhere in the social spectrum, rich or poor.

We need to make sure that not only wealthy families are the ones who can afford higher education. College is a key step in someone lifethat could decide whether or not that person could move on to become part of the middle class.  As a student, I use subsidize loans to help me pay for my college education and I also work part time and, with a little help from parents, I am barely able to cover my expenses.

I find it hard to believe that Republicans at the state and national levels would rather help those who are better off, rather than help students like me and those who are not as fortunate as I am. I want to makesure that college affordability remains a high priority in Tallahassee and in Washington DC. Not only we are students, but we are also the future of thisnation, and we need help.” – Leo Curiel, President of the FIU College Democrats.

BACKGROUND

Republicans in Tallahassee cut the “Bright Futures” Scholarship program. “Another measure would cut thousands of students from the Bright Futures scholarships;” "Starting this year, recipients will only receive a certain amount of money per credit hour, and most of their fees won’t be covered. It’s a much smaller award than students received during the first decade of the program." [Miami Herald, 2/29/12; NPR's StateImpact, 8/20/12]

GOP funding cuts to the Bright Futures program are raising the cost of higher education for students. "The Florida Lottery's contribution to Bright Futures has declined by $41 million in transferred funds to the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, according to Florida Department of Education officials. Deborah Higgins, Bright Futures information specialist with the Florida Department of Education, said funds have decreased because the Florida Legislature appropriated less funding for the program this year…'The award per credit hour to be funded was reduced, therefore eligible students will receive a lesser award per their enrollment,' said Higgins about the effects of funding cuts on the Florida Bright Futures program and on Florida students. [The FAMUAN, 10/16/12

Naples Daily News: The GOP's cuts to Bright Futures are "squeezing college students as tuition increases." "The decreasing coverage provided by Bright Futures means the more than 120,000 Florida students who receive funding from it are making up the difference. And with tuition becoming more and more expensive, some are feeling strained…For Brad Corfias, the lowered amount meant taking fewer courses per semester — and staying in college longer."

Republicans like Rick Scott said education would be a priority. “I’d like to focus on what I believe are the three most important jobs I have… two, securing the right of every Floridian to a quality education” [Gov. Scott’s “State of the State,” 1/9/2012

But Republicans puts corporate special interests over middle class families. “The proposed 2012-13 budget…is a study in pork-barrel spending, reckless policy and a shortchanged future.” [Tampa Bay Times, 3/7/2012

Florida Republicans in Congress Voted Against a Plan to Prevent an Increase in Student Loan Interest Rates. House Republicans voted against considering the Stop the Rate Hike Act of 2012. The measure would keep interest rates on need-based student loans at 3.4 percent in 2013, saving borrowers an average of $1,000 in loan repayment costs. Costs for the measure would have been offset by ending tax breaks for Big Oil. [H Res 691, Vote #389, 6/20/12; Congressional Record, p. H3817, 6/20/12] 

Florida Republicans in Congress Voted for a Plan That Cut Could Pell Grants for 9.6 Million Students. On March 29, 2012, Congressman West voted in favor of a spending plan that could cut Pell Grants by more than $1,000 in 2014 for 9.6 million students.  [H Con Res 112, Vote #151, 3/29/12; OMB, 3/21/12]

452,770 Florida Students Had Stafford Loans in the 2012-2013 Academic Year.  [Education and Workforce Committee, accessed 6/20/12]

Two-Thirds of College Graduates Have Student Loans to Pay Off. “About two-thirds of college graduates have some student loans to pay off, and their average debt is about $25,000 to $28,700, according to estimates by education experts and organizations. (About 10% of those with loans owe more than $50,000 or so.)” [LA Times, 5/20/12]

Florida Students Already Expecting Tuition Hikes Up to 15%. “University leaders approved tuition hikes for Florida’s public universities ranging from nine to 15 percent. On average tuition will increase 700 dollars next year. It could go even higher for students who borrow money to pay for school.” [WJHG, 6/23/12]

 

Congressman West Suggested Federal Student Loans Are “Communist.” At a town hall meeting this month, Congressman Allen West said, “You can start dictating where people can go to school, loans that they can get and the payment of those loans. I gotta tell you, that's something that's in a book written by Marx and Engels called the Communist Manifesto.” [Dania Beach Town Hall, 6/11/12

Southerland Said He We Can’t Afford the Department of Education.  “I think departments like the Department of Education, Department of Energy, the EPA,  I think those are things that right now we can’t  afford. And in business, if we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it. There’s a lot of money being spent in Washington D.C. that we could eliminate if we cut, and those are some of the departments I would cut right there.” [Suwannee County REC CandidateForum, 6/08/10

The Tampa Bay Times wrote that under the Republican's budget the "Rich get richer." "House Republicans envision a country where Americans would be increasingly on their own to afford food and medical care even when they are elderly, disabled or poor. It also would be a nation with a tax code that tilts further toward benefiting corporations and the wealthy.…Floridians should be concerned about all these misplaced priorities, but Medicare and Medicaid are particularly at risk…Congressional Republicans want to exacerbate the nation’s yawning income inequality while making life harder for those at the bottom.” [Tampa Bay Times, 3/31/12]

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