MADISON, Wis. — As Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch continue a statewide election-year tour of Wisconsin’s technical colleges, neither has explained why they have increased student loan debt hundreds of millions of dollars, gutted tech college funding by $70 million and opposed common sense reforms that would allow many of the state’s nearly 1 million student loan borrowers to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage.
“Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch have been the worst administration for student loan debt and borrowers in the state’s history,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “Massive cuts, skyrocketing tuition and opposing reforms that would allow borrowers to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage or car loan – that’s the Walker-Kleefisch record.”
According to original research by One Wisconsin Institute, student loan debt has significant, negative effects not just on borrowers, but also the state’s economy. Borrowers are significantly more likely to rent versus own their home and buy a used versus new vehicle. According to the research, over $200 million in new vehicle sales are lost annually, directly attributable to student loan debt. For those obtaining a two-year degree, such as at a technical college, respondents reported an average debt length of 16.8 years to pay off their student loans.
The Walker-Kleefisch record on increasing student loan debt:
Hiking tuition and cutting state support for public education: In his first budget, Gov. Walker enacted an 11% tuition increase for University of Wisconsin schools. Students will pay an well in excess of $200 million in tuition over Gov. Walker’s four years in office because of his budget. Walker has also cut state funding for the University of Wisconsin and technical college system by nearly $400 million in his two state budgets.
Flat-lining and cutting state financial aid: Under Gov. Walker, state financial aid programs for eligible students have received no new funds, even as double-digit tuition increases were signed into law. In addition, Gov. Walker phased out the Wisconsin Covenant program, signing into law a measure reducing state tuition assistance by $38 million over two years.
Refusing to help current borrowers: Gov. Walker let legislation die that would have helped current student loan borrowers refinance their loans and deduct student loan payments from their state taxes, just like you can with a mortgage. Despite entreaties from legislators, Walker has refused to call a special session to revive legislation to help student loan borrowers.
In October 2013, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) introduced common sense reforms including refinancing and a tax break for borrowers in their historic Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. Despite having 54 co-sponsors, Walker’s Republican allies killed the bill. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke included these proposals in her comprehensive jobs and economic development blueprint for the state.
Ross concluded, “There are common sense solutions, like helping borrowers refinance student loans, that will help stop higher education from becoming a multi-decade debt sentence instead of a path to the middle class. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker has chosen to ignore them, while making the crisis in Wisconsin more dire with policies like hiking tuition and freezing financial aid for eligible students.”