EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — College Affordability and the $1.3 trillion student loan debt crisis were the topics of a roundtable discussion today in Eau Claire hosted by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. Participating in the discussion and sharing research on the devastating economic impact of student loan debt and advocating for common sense reforms, like allowing borrowers to refinance a student loan like you can a mortgage, was One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross.
“The student loan debt and college affordability crises are clear and present dangers to our state and national economy,” commented Ross. “We ignore the plight of 43 million Americans who worked hard to get an education and took on the personal responsibility to pay for it and the economic consequences of the over $1.3 trillion in debt they’re now saddled with at our peril.”
Original research by One Wisconsin Institute found the student loan debt crisis has a significant, negative effect on borrowers and the Wisconsin economy. Borrowers reported average student loan debt payments of $388 per month over a term of 18 to 22 years and are significantly more likely to rent versus own their home and drive a used versus new vehicle than Wisconsinites without the burden of student loan debt.
A report released earlier this year by One Wisconsin Institute in association with the national think tank Demos shows how the regressive higher education policies in Wisconsin pursued by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislative majorities have shifted costs onto consumers, increased student loan debt and decreased the affordability of higher education. The confluence of the these factors endangers the quality of Wisconsin’s institutions of higher learning, threatening the state’s economic competitiveness and the future of its young people.
Ross noted that the attacks on college affordability in Wisconsin from Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature include consistently refusing to support state legislation introduced in 2013 and again in 2015 to allow borrowers to refinance student loans and providing a tax break for student loan payments, cutting almost $700 million from the University of Wisconsin and technical college systems, enacting double digit tuition increases while failing to fully fund financial aid, leaving tens of thousands of eligible students with no help, and attempting to eliminate the state agency in charge of overseeing private for-profit colleges.
At the federal level, Sen. Baldwin and other supporters of higher education have been stymied in their efforts to change the law to allow the refinancing of student loans, as well as other common sense measures like increasing the earning limit for students who work and also rely on need-based federal financial aid like Pell Grants to pay for their tuition and allowing students in shorter–term job training programs in high-demand areas for employers to qualify for federal student loans that could offer lower interest rates than private loans.
Ross concluded, “Education and job training have always held the promise of being a path to the middle class. To protect that promise for student loan borrowers and the students of the future, there are common sense steps we can take – like allowing borrowers to refinance student loans – to make sure their hard work and personal responsibility earn them a fair shot to succeed.”