Student Debt Rises, Gov. Walker and Republican Legislature Refusing to Clean Up Their Mess

Latest Report Shows Wisconsin One of Few States in Nation Cutting Funding for Higher Education

MADISON, Wis. — Under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, Wisconsin has risen to third highest in the nation for percentage of college graduates with student loan debt. A newly-released report earns Wisconsin another dubious ranking — one of only nine states of the forty eight that have adopted their budget cutting funding for higher education between fiscal years 2015 and 2016. The national average for increases in support for higher education is 4.1 percent, meanwhile Wisconsin has the second largest percentage cut in the country at 8.1 percent, exceeded only by Arizona.

“Gov. Walker and his Republican legislative allies have set themselves apart from almost every other state with their abysmal track record on student loan debt and higher education,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “They’ve cut support for higher education while other states are investing and we’re paying the price with top three percentages of graduates with student loan debt.”

The annual Grapevine Report, produced by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, compares state spending on higher education in the current fiscal year to past years. The report found that as many states economies improved over the last several years as the impacts of the 2008 Bush recession fade, investments in higher education have on average risen across.

However, based on data from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin has bucked the national trend of more support for higher education. When compared to fiscal year 2010-11, before Walker and the Republicans took complete control of state government, public support for the University of Wisconsin System and state technical colleges has been slashed by nearly $1 billion. On their watch Walker and Republicans have also imposed double digit tuition hikes and so badly underfunded financial aid that nearly 40,000 students eligible for help received none.

Earlier research by One Wisconsin Institute and the national think tank Demos showed how the sum of these policies has shifted costs onto students. The related consequences of reduced consumer spending on major purchases like homes and autos and billions in lost wealth for student loan borrowers threaten the state’s economic competitiveness and the future of its young people.

Adding insult to injury, Walker and his fellow Republicans are blocking action on the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act that would create a state authority to help borrowers refinance their student loans, just like you can with a mortgage. The measure also extends a state tax break to payments on student loans that could provide an annual tax benefit of over $530 for an individual or $1,000 for a couple and provides additional consumer information about higher education loans.

The alternative plan touted by Walker and state legislative Republicans denies any help reducing monthly student loan payments by not allowing Wisconsin borrowers to refinance, like you can with a mortgage. According to their own estimates their scheme provides zero benefit to 97 percent of the estimated one million Wisconsinites with student loan debt.

Ross concluded, “Gov. Walker and his Republican legislative cabal have made a mess of higher education in Wisconsin, and families across the state are paying the price with crushing levels of student loan debt. But instead of being willing to help clean it up they’re trying to hide their failings with a woefully incomplete student debt scheme that denies any help to nearly every Wisconsin student loan borrower.”

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One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.