MADISON, Wis. — Voters overwhelmingly support a specific component of the Democratic Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill plan to allow student loan borrowers the ability to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage, at no cost to taxpayers, according to results from the latest Marquette University Law School poll. The results show 61 percent support the central piece of the plan with only 15 percent opposing it. This is the first time the MU Law poll has tested the issue of student loan debt and the refinancing solution.
“These poll results confirm both what we’ve seen in our research, as well as what we’ve heard from across Wisconsin — that people want student loan borrowers to be able to refinance their loans just like you can a mortgage,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “We have a Wisconsin solution to a national crisis and the only thing that stands in the way is Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, which have so far blocked the plan.”
Efforts to help Wisconsin borrowers deal with the crushing burden of student loan debt were rebuffed once again by the Republican majority in the State Assembly. A motion to take up the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act, Assembly Bill 272, failed on a party line vote. Republicans in the state Senate have similarly blocked the bill from coming to floor. Currently, all 50 Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate are co-sponsoring the bill, authored by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).
Recent results of a study by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) on student loan debt for 2014 found seventy percent of Wisconsin’s graduates have student loan debt, the third highest percentage in the nation, and the average debt load of over $28,800 they carry ranks Wisconsin seventeenth nationally. TICAS also reports that over the last decade Wisconsin graduates were saddled with a seventy four percent increase in the amount of debt upon graduation and that ten percent more graduates were leaving school with student debt.
Original research from One Wisconsin Institute found that student loan debt has a significant and negative impact on the Wisconsin economy. Borrowers are much more likely to rent versus own their home and over $200 million in new car sales are lost annually due directly to student loan debt.
With national think tank Demos, One Wisconsin Institute’s Wisconsin’s Great Cost Shift report found that the state’s de-investment in higher education and rising tuition has shifted costs onto students. The 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.
Yet, instead of help for borrowers who worked hard to get an education and took on the personal responsibility to pay for it, Gov. Walker and the GOP legislature have pursued policies contributing to the worsening crisis. Since 2011 they have enacted nearly $700 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges, approved double digit tuition increases and underfunded financial aid, leaving tens of thousands of eligible students with no help.
Ross concluded, “The data shows conclusively that Gov. Walker and the Republicans’ policies have been an utter and complete failure with record numbers of Wisconsin college graduates burdened with record amounts of student loan debt. We don’t need polling to show this is a crisis, but the polling shows the public wants action, not excuses, on the common sense solutions in the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act.”