By Beverly R. Muzii
Come Nov. 3, most Americans will make their way to the polls where they will cast their ballots. And while most have had their eye on the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, that race is not the only high-stake election occurring in the next month.
Citizens in Seminole and Orange County will also vote for either Rep. Stephanie Murphy, the Democratic incumbent; Republican Dr. Leo Valentín or Independent candidate William Garlington to represent them in District 7 of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The candidate chosen will represent constituents on many important issues, including the student loan debt crisis, which affects nearly 70% of Americans today.
The student debt crisis is debated across the country. While nearly every politician agrees something must be done, Democrats and Republicans continue to throw criticisms at each other.
Some liberals argue that Americans should be offered full loan forgiveness while more moderate people like Murphy suggest that programs be created to help students graduate with less debt. Many conservatives are of the opinion that the federal government should not be involved at all.
The student debt crisis is one of the many political points of contention between liberals and conservatives. However, like many U.S. citizens, Murphy holds beliefs and opinions that stem from her own personal experiences.
Coming from a family of Vietnamese refugees and unable to afford her education, Murphy relied on student loans. Now at the age of 42, she still owes $15,001 of withstanding debt.
“As someone who is still paying off her own student loans, I know there is far more we can and should do to ensure that students are not saddled with excessive debt and are prepare to succeed after graduation,” Murphy told the U.S. House of Representatives in a 2018 speech regarding a measure passed unanimously Sept. 5, 2018.
The “Murphy Measure to Empower Students to Reduce Debt” is an amendment to H.R. 1635, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act, which is designed to expand financial counseling for students looking to obtain federal loans.
Murphy said passing this amendment is “a step in the right direction” toward the goal of preventing young Americans from falling into the same cycle of debt that their parents and grandparents face.
When justifying the amendment, she was confident it would help students enrolled in community or state colleges seeking to transfer to a four-year program.
This measure is intended to help student renegotiate loans when transferring schools. It is especially helpful to students enrolled in community or state schools. It also introduced the DirectConnect to UCF program.
“In general, [DirectConnect to UCF] guarantees students admission if they have earned an associate degree from a partner college, and the credits earned by the students at the partner college typically transfer to UCF,” Murphy explained. “This is exactly the sort of transfer program that my amendment will encourage students to utilize.”
Murphy’s work addressing student loan debt did not end there.
“Addressing student loan debt is a priority for me because I constantly hear from young people in my district who are deeply concerned about graduating with crippling student loan debt,” Murphy said in a recent interview with the Scribe.
She emphasized that she will continue prioritizing the issue of student debt because no Americans are should be forced to choose between “a high-quality education or falling into financial ruin.”
Murphy said her goal is for every young person to have the same educational opportunities that she did.
“Whether you’re a student-veteran, work a part-time job to pay the bills, or have child care responsibilities, I believe a quality and affordable higher education should be available to everyone,” she said.
She said she understands the severity of the student loan debt crisis and that it will not disappear until Congress puts forth what she called “bold and practical solutions.”
“In a divided Congress, we have to focus on the things that can get done with bipartisan support and can swiftly be enacted into law to help as many people as possible,” she explained.
Increased funding for Pell grants, lower interest rates for student loans, allowing students to refinance and consolidate loans, as well as allowing employers to make tax-free contributions to help employees pay off their loans are all actions Murphy supports.
Murphy also voted in favor of the CARES Act, which created a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for colleges and universities, in addition to the HEROS act, which provided $10,000 of debt relief to “economically distressed student borrowers.”
However, Murphy said she is still not satisfied with the relief Congress has provided.
“I remain frustrated that negotiations have stalled on another coronavirus package while so many American families and businesses are suffering,” she said. “This is unacceptable, and I will keep pushing for additional relief for every community that is hurting, including our student borrowers.”
On the other side of the political spectrum is Murphy’s conservative independent opponent William Garlington.
Garlington also worked toward college, only to experience financial constraints when it came time to pay tuition. He was unable to afford his education even having been working multiple jobs, so he decided to take out a loan.
At the time, the federal government did not fund loans, the banks did. He negotiated a loan between the university and the bank that he agreed to repay directly to the bank. He paid back his loan and did not have any outstanding debt.
Because this process worked well for him, he does not see why the federal government needs to be involved with student loans.
In order to make everyone accountable, which for Garlington means the colleges, the bank and the student, he said the federal government needs to no longer be involved in the loan process.
“The loan process needs to go through the banking system,” he said.
Garlington’s conservative beliefs are reflected in his skepticism over the amount of money Murphy and other Democrats give to public colleges and universities.
“The money is not going to children, it is going to the professors,” he said. He claimed that federally funded universities are using government money to pay a professor $400,000 to $800,000 a year. The average salary for a Florida professor is $93,119 a year, according to salary.com. He uses this as justification as to why the government must be removed from the equation.
His concern extends to the tuition costs of public universities.
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if UCF lowered some tuition?” Garlington asked.
According to the University of Central Florida website, tuition has actually dropped more than $1,000 in the last five years.
In 2016, which also happens to be the year Murphy was elected to Congress, the total in-state tuition for UCF was $17,317, by 2020 instate tuition has been lowered to $16,254.
Garlington does not only want education to return to how it was when he was young. He is a proponent of a complete shift in the American outlook on post-secondary institutions.
“When I went to school,” he reminisced, “we learned history and mathematics and whatever. We didn’t learn all this political nonsense that they are teaching children now. In my opinion, [education] is being run by liberals.”
His primary concern now is that students are being indoctrinated into the world of expensive universities by liberals who push four-year educations, even for those who do not want it.
Garlington said he believes students should pave their own way in life, without the outside influence and pressure to attend a college they cannot reasonably afford.
His stance is that not every student is destined for a four-year college.
“Everyone has a gift,” he remarked. Not every student must attend a four-year institution to cultivate his or her talent. Instead, he said he believes many students should be looking into technical schools and two-year degrees that will set them up to enter the workforce and earn a paycheck. He said a lot of students would be “better off” earning a technical degree than they would be attending an expensive college to earn a degree that they would not use.
Liberals and conservatives alike acknowledge that something must be done to help the millions of Americans facing student loan debt. They may disagree on how reformation should occur, but both Murphy and Garlington have given the indications that if sent to Washington, they will do their part to turn the tide on the student debt crisis.
Attempts to interview Dr. Leo Valentín were not returned. He hasn’t made his stance on the subject publicly known.