What College Republicans Get Wrong About Higher Ed, Lower Debt

This Bill Was Something Substantive That Dealt With Student Loan Debt From a Long-term Perspective, and Republicans Killed It

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As a student of politics, I try to stay abreast of differing viewpoints to form opinions that are sound and concrete. I recently came across an editorial in The Badger Herald from the University of Wisconsin College Republicans entitled ‘What the Democrats get wrong about the student loan crisis’.

It was nice of Charles Hoffmann and the College Republicans to address the issue of student debt, as this is an issue that affects over 40 million Americans and their families. But the whole basis of the argument is on such shaky ground that I felt compelled to respond.

First off, Charles does not accurately describe the bill, only dismisses it, providing little to no sources or evidence. The Higher Ed, Lower Debt Bill would create a state Student Loan Refinancing Authority allowing student loan borrowers to refinance those loans at “much lower” interest rates, just as homeowners do with mortgages.

Hoffmann may look at this bill as “increasing bureaucracy,” but I look at the establishment of the refinancing authority as finally allowing those crippled by student loan debt the freedom to take control of their own futures through refinancing. Imagine if you or your parents weren’t allowed to refinance the interest rates on your mortgages. More than likely, you would become shackled by said rates, and it could potentially limit your financial capabilities.

In describing the bill, Hoffmann says that, “One could also argue that this bill would shift the liability of student loans from the federal government and private banks to Wisconsin taxpayers.” One could also argue that the moon is made of spare ribs. But without proper evidence, that would sound just as outlandish as the things Charles has just said.

Another one of his main criticisms of the bill was, “If the agency created by this bill could not pay off the bonds, the bill would then be passed along to the taxpayers.” But, as bill co-author state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, has said, “While there would always be some risk to taxpayers in the event of defaults, most of that risk would already be factored into interest rates, meaning that the bulk of the risk is shouldered by borrowers.”

I must say that Charles and the College Republicans are right about some things, though. Tuition is a lion’s share of the total cost of attendance. And yes, higher tuition does cause student loan usage to increase. But tuition freezes do absolutely nothing to address what is truly one of the biggest issues facing college graduates today: the existing loans with very high interest rates they’ve already taken out to go to school.

Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters assume every student pays for tuition out of pocket, and that student loans usage would automatically decrease with the tuition freeze. Ultimately, tuition freezes are clearly just a smoke-and-mirrors tactic on the part of Walker and his supporters. It allows Walker to do the literal bare minimum to help students. It’s also incredibly shortsighted and naive to assume that the issues with student loan debt can be erased solely by not allowing for the slight increase of tuition for a few years.

I think one of the larger points that often eludes people when discussing these issues is the fact that Walker’s tuition freezes and previous educational policies are not geared towards people who come from predominantly poor backgrounds. Some of us come to this school with nothing and take these loans out because the alternative is embarking upon a decade-plus career at McDonald’s. Some people don’t have a built-in support system, and it seems that Walker and his supporters want to punish us because of that.

This bill was something substantive that dealt with student loan debt from a long-term perspective, and Republicans killed it without even a second glance. Allowing borrowers to refinance their loans like one would a car or mortgage is a proposal that makes total sense for parents, current students and graduates. More vitally, it’s something that ensures college being a possibility for ALL of the young people in this state, not just people who fit into Scott Walker’s vision for Wisconsin.

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Miles Brown is an intern at One Wisconsin Now & the Institute. He is a senior majoring in political science and history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.