Graduating from college should be a peak time in a young person’s life as they ideally land a good job, buy a car, house or start a business. These days, the reality is quite different as new graduates face insurmountable amounts of debt. Student loan debt averages $28,810 per student in our state. Nationally, student loans have nearly quadrupled since 2004, to just under $1.2 trillion. It’s no wonder that college affordability is a growing concern among hardworking families across Wisconsin.

 The State Assembly is working to solve this growing problem with a package of targeted solutions that alleviate some of the challenges facing our current students and graduates. The College Affordability Package will give more loan information to students so they can make smart financial decisions; emergency assistance so they can stay in school; tax breaks when paying back their student loans; and internship opportunities to connect students with Wisconsin employers to help students get better jobs and reduce the “braindrain.”   

Students who pay interest on student loans will see a break on their state taxes thanks to the proposal that eliminates the $2,500 tax deduction cap for student loan interest. This will help over 32,000 families in Wisconsin by saving student loan debt payers $5.2 million annually statewide, that’s an average of $165 in savings each year per family. 

These proposals, many of which were offered by the UW System, offer immediate help to our students while providing long-term solutions. One of the ways we’re addressing the problem long-term is by encouraging students to gain the skills needed to fill the 70,000 job openings on the Job Center of Wisconsin website that aren’t being filled. The students who have difficulty paying back loans are the ones who don’t have gainful employment after graduation. 

Ultimately, a college education needs to become more affordable. That’s why Assembly Republicans froze tuition costs for four years in a row at all UW schools, allowing students to save an average of $6,311 per year.

Attending college shouldn’t be an impediment to pursuing other life goals. We can no longer ignore the ramifications that ballooning student loan debt is causing. We may not be able to solve this problem overnight, but these bills are a meaningful start. We need our young people to be able to join the workforce and the marketplace.