USC DPT Student Attends Student Loan Bill Signing at White House

Zuleima Hidalgo, a student in the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, attended the bill signing at the White House on Aug. 9 when President Barack Obama signed into law a student loan reform bill.

Hidalgo, who is about to enter her second year in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, was one of several students who were asked to attend the signing. Prior to putting his signature on the legislation, Obama thanked those students who had raised their voices in support of the legislation. 

“Without their voice, without their participation we probably would not have gotten this bill done,” Obama said.

Hidalgo said it was an incredible honor to stand behind Obama as a witness to history. “To witness our president sign something that I was so passionate about made me feel so proud as well as happy to know that our Congress could come to an agreement.” Hidalgo also got the chance to meet the president and tell him how grateful she is for the passage of this bill.

The legislation retroactively lowers the interest rate on student loans disbursed after July 1, 2013.The bill lowered the interest rate for loans to undergraduates from 6.8 to 3.9 percent and for graduate students to 5.4 percent. Interest rates on graduate student loans, depending on the type, will be reduced to between 5.4 and 6.4 percent for the life of the loan.

Future rate increases will be tied to financial markets, but will not exceed 8.25 percent for undergraduates and 9.5 percent for graduate students.

Jason Murillo, a USC financial aid officer, noted that “the new lower rates will result in thousands of dollars in savings over the life of these loans.”

Obama said in his remarks that student loan debt, which has ballooned in recent years, burdens new graduates, their families and “has a depressive effect on the economy overall.” He added that student loan debt makes it harder for recent graduates to buy homes or start their own businesses.

Hidalgo said she expects this measure to be a major benefit to her, as well as her classmates, once she completes her degree. “Honestly, this alleviates some of the pressure that my classmates and I will face to pay off our loans as quickly as possible so that we don’t accumulate too much interest.”

Hidalgo is completing a clinical rotation this summer at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Two years ago Dr. Pepper awarded her a $7500 scholarship and put her image on its cans and bottles. In her application for that award, she said that she was motivated to pursue a DPT degree after participating in medical volunteer work with underprivileged people in South America. Hidalgo plans to continue doing volunteer work and hopes to spend next summer volunteering in a clinic in Colombia as part of her clinical education.