MADISON, Wis. — Nearly one million Wisconsinites have student loan debt, part of the $1.2 trillion student loan debt crisis that ensnares 40 million Americans. But according to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, a recent college campus tour undertaken by the increasingly desperate campaign of Gov. Scott Walker earns failing grades for failing to take on the $1.2 trillion student loan debt crisis.
“For what he’s done, and for what he’s refused to do, Gov. Walker has earned a failing grade when it comes to college affordability and helping Wisconsin borrowers,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Tuition hikes, financial aid cuts, historic cuts to education funding and higher than necessary interest rates on loans add up to more, not less debt for Wisconsin students and their families.”
A media report on Gov. Walker’s stop in Green Bay noted that he dodged the issue of student loan debt and indicated he does not put a priority on increasing financial aid for eligible students to help them afford their education and not be driven deeper into debt.
Ross cited other actions, and inaction, by Gov. Walker over the last four years deepening the student loan debt crisis in Wisconsin including:
- 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 more than $200 million in increased 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 Wisconsin 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.
Original research by One Wisconsin Institute dramatically illustrates the need for help for student loan borrowers to keep the current $1.2 trillion debt crisis from becoming a full-blown economic catastrophe. They found that student loan debt has a significant and negative effect on critical drivers of the economy like new car and home sales, as borrowers are significantly more likely to buy a used versus new car and rent versus own their home.
In contrast to Gov. Walker’s failure on the issue 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 Act. Despite having 54 co-sponsors, Gov. Scott 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, “Wisconsin students and borrowers have done the right thing. They’ve worked hard to get their education or job training and they took on the personal responsibility to pay for it. They’ve earned a fair shot at the middle class, but Gov. Walker is only offering more of the same policies and inaction that have saddled our economy with $1.2 trillion in debt.”