Amid so many of the recent conversations and headlines about student loans, a significant part of the discussion here in Florida is missing. Unlike most other states, Sunshine State families are uniquely positioned to avoid student loan debt for their children.
Why? Because Florida has incredibly affordable in-state tuition for its top-ranked universities and other postsecondary institutions, and a nationally recognized college savings program that is offered exclusively to residents. This means Florida, more than perhaps any other state, offers families a chance to save early and affordably for a high-quality postsecondary education.
Today, Florida tuition is ranked as the 49th lowest in the nation. Our universities continue to be highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report, noted for their combination of value and quality.
Families can use Florida Prepaid Plans to lock in future tuition at these state universities, 28 state colleges and hundreds of technical and vocational programs. Or they can enroll in a Florida 529 Savings Plan and save what they can, when they can, investing over time to grow their child’s college fund.
The Florida Prepaid College Board is the largest and longest-running prepaid tuition program in the nation — known as a national model for excellence at a time when other states have stopped offering these affordable prepaid programs altogether.
Starting at just $45 a month, Florida Prepaid Plans guarantee families the chance to lock in future college tuition at today’s prices. This makes families immune to the uncertainties of inflation that are squeezing so many families in other areas like food and fuel. In the nearly 35 years since lawmakers created Florida Prepaid, half a million students have attended college using their plans. In total, more than 2 million plans have been purchased.
Still, more than 2.5 million Floridians owe $98.3 billion in college loans, with an average monthly payment of $280, according to the most recent data available. More than half of all college students leave school with debt. Florida graduates on average leave school carrying $35,496 in debt, according to StudentLoanHero.com.
It does not have to be this way. Prepaid Plans were created to help families avoid the loan debt by saving in consistent, affordable monthly payments that never go up. Families can start saving toward their future tuition for less than it costs for a family of four to go to the movies.
If you are not yet enrolled in a prepaid or 529 Savings plan through Florida Prepaid, I encourage you to research the options and find one that fits your budget.
Here in the Sunshine State, student loan debt should not be a given. In fact, with planning and focus, it can be avoided altogether.
Jimmy Patronis is Florida’s chief financial officer.