MADISON, Wis. — Saul Newton started college at UW-Stevens Point and currently attends UW-Waukesha County. Saul was relying on financial aid and student loans to help cover his costs. But as aid remained stagnant Saul’s tuition at UW-Stevens Point jumped $1,600. Even though he worked several jobs, he couldn’t afford to continue his studies and dropped out and enlisted in the military. Saul was deployed to Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, where he made monthly student loan payments while risking his life. Saul now attends college thanks to the G.I. bill, but he’s still paying off his student loan debt.
The following are the statements of Saul Newton in advance of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address:
“On Tuesday, President Obama goes before Congress and the nation to announce his priorities for the upcoming year and give an update on the state of our union. As we move past the Great Recession and our economy continues to recover, there is one issue that has been neglected by our political leaders for far too long – the crushing weight of student loan debt. Confronting the student loan crisis should be a top priority for President Obama and Congress in 2014.
“Student loan debt burdens millions of families across the country. Americans have over one trillion dollars in student loan debt, the second largest debt in the country behind mortgage debt. These loans cannot be refinanced, nor are they forgiven through bankruptcy. Families with student loans struggle to pay thousands of dollars every year in interest payments, money that could be used to buy homes, start businesses, provide for their families, and achieve the American dream. Economic stability and a chance of breaking into the middle class remain out of reach for families with student loans.
“When I started my college career seven years ago, I dreamed of earning an education. My working class family could not afford tuition, even at a state university. I had to rely on financial aid and student loans to pay for my education. Year after year, I watched as the cost of college rose. From 2007 to 2009, my yearly tuition rose $1,600. I worked several jobs to make ends meet, but I was drowning.
“My only option to afford a college education was to enlist in the military, to serve my country and receive the benefits of the GI bill. Two years into my college career, with thousands of dollars in student loans already racked up, I joined the US Army. Less than a year later, I was deployed to Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. While I was deployed, going on daily patrols and fighting for my country, I was making payments on my student loans, loans that I have still not paid off. Common sense protections for consumers are not available for student loan debt, and I needed to protect my economic future.
“Today, I can pursue a bachelor’s degree because of the GI Bill. I am thankful for the opportunity and my experience, but students should not have to go to war in order to afford a college education. And like 753,000 other Wisconsinites, I will graduate with student loan debt that will burden me for years.
“My story is not unique. Many students struggle with the high cost of higher education, and this crisis is no accident. For years, politicians in Washington have given free reign to big banks that preyed on vulnerable students simply seeking to earn an education. Charging exorbitant interest rates with no consumer protections, students carry this debt for decades. Big banks have lined their pockets while punishing students and working families.
“The student loan crisis has reached its breaking point. Without meaningful reform, our middle class will shrink while working families pay more and more for their education. The simple fact of the matter is that a college education is the path to economic security. Students like me are working hard to provide for our future and improve our communities. We aren’t asking for a handout, but we are asking for a fair shot. We’ve been waiting on Washington to act. Don’t make us wait any longer.”