Despite one of the nation’s lowest in-state tuition rates, many Floridians continue to struggle with student loan repayments and the often-prohibitive costs of a college education. Results from a new statewide survey show that a majority are in favor of policies that would provide additional relief for borrowers and expand educational access.
The survey of 600 Floridians — recently conducted at the University of South Florida — examined public opinions about student loan forgiveness, free college tuition and the broader importance of education in American society. The data come just months before a federal pause on student loan repayments is set to expire, with numerous interest groups and political leaders pressuring the Biden administration for additional relief.
According to the survey results, a majority of Floridians appear to support such relief efforts, with 67% of respondents saying that the temporary pause on repayments should be extended. Among them, 28% said that the pause should be extended until the end of 2021, while 39% favored extending it into 2022.
Notably, only 36% of respondents reported having ever taken out student loans, with more than half of this group reporting their loans as “paid off in full.” This suggests some sense of altruism among Floridians, namely that there is widespread support for an extension of the repayment pause beyond just current borrowers.
While Floridians would support an extension of the COVID-era pause, they are somewhat more divided when it comes to student loan forgiveness. Led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, congressional Democrats have urged the Biden administration to forgive between $10,000 and $50,000 in debt for all student loan holders.
According to the survey responses, there is majority support among Floridians for the $10,000 forgiveness proposal (61%), however support declines for higher levels of forgiveness. An even 50% support forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt, while less than half (46%) say that they would support the forgiveness of all student loan debt.
Regardless of their attitudes toward loan forgiveness, an overwhelming majority of Floridians agree that further investments in education are essential. Among the survey respondents, a majority (61%) either somewhat or strongly agreed that a college education is necessary in order to succeed in America today. Furthermore, just over 70% agreed that a college education should be considered a “basic right” for all Americans
When asked about the strategic implications of higher education investments, an overwhelming majority (85%) said that additional investments in higher education are necessary for America to remain competitive in the global economy. Nearly two-thirds (64%) also said that greater investments in higher education are necessary to overcome historic racial inequities.
Moving forward, student loan policy is likely to remain a tricky and contentious issue. Even among those who favor greater access to higher education, loan forgiveness raises fundamental questions of fairness, particularly for borrowers who have already paid off substantial balances. Among the survey respondents who reported having already paid their student loans off in full, 58% favored forgiving $10,000 in student debt, compared with 84% of those who still carry a student debt load.
However, it seems that a strong majority do agree on one thing: Education is essential to Florida’s future, as well as the nation’s. Their belief is well founded. Research overwhelmingly shows that education leads to improved economic, health, and social outcomes, while simultaneously decreasing crime, substance abuse, and intolerance (to name a few).
As these correlations become more and more apparent, it’s no surprise that Floridians favor greater investments in and access to education. In a time of tight budgets and rampant partisanship, the challenge for state leaders will be figuring out how to prioritize these investments.
Josh Scacco is an associate professor in the University of South Florida Department of Communication. Stephen Neely is an associate professor at USF’s School of Public Affairs. The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 600 adult Floridians was stratified by region of the state and fielded to be representative of the state’s demographic composition based on age, gender, race, ethnicity and political party affiliation. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error +/- 4.