University of South Florida grad student Kristoff Gayle is fortunate enough that scholarships and grants helped him earn his undergrad degree.
“Education is such a wonderful thing, and that's something everyone should have the opportunity to have," Gayle said.
But going to graduate and medical school means he had to take out a federal student loan.
"It doesn't really hit you until after you finish and you realize, ‘I have $20,000 to pay back, $30,000 to pay back, or more," he said.
Gayle said he supports the President Barack Obama's new initiative to expand the Pay as You Earn program to help Americans struggling with student loan debt.
"It's very heavy and after a while it weighs down on you and just, you know, lowers your morale," Gayle said.
The program already exists, but the president is opening it up to borrowers who took loans before October 2007 but quit borrowing by October 2011.
"If a student is struggling with making their payments on the standard repayment [plan], this allows them possibly – depending on their income – to reduce that and keep them out of default," USF Financial Aid Director Billie Jo Hamilton said.
The initiative caps payments at 10 percent or less of the borrower's income.
Half of USF students have student loan debt.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the national average debt for the class of 2012 is almost $30,000.
"The word's going to have to get out for students to take advantage of that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said only 11 percent of students eligible for Pay as You Earn are signed up.
"I wasn't informed of that, so I feel that that's something more people should be aware of," Gayle said.
For more information about the program, visit: https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans/pay-as-you-earn