By Senator Howard Marklein
January 15, 2016
The College Affordability Legislative Package
In Wisconsin, we value the importance of a good education. The higher education system in Wisconsin is a shining example of the investment that our state makes in education. The rising cost of higher education, the growing levels of student debt, and the ability to connect education with gainful employment are important issues that impact many Wisconsin families.
Managing student debt while finding and keeping gainful employment has become a major issue for many Wisconsinites and their families. Too many college students take on too much debt without fully understanding how much they will be obligated to pay and whether or not their future occupation will support their debt after graduation.
UW Platteville, the UW Colleges and technical colleges in the 17th Senate District have incredibly strong returns on investment and do a great job of making college affordable. However, we still hear that students throughout Wisconsin are drowning in debt and we have been challenged to solve the problem. Rather than focusing on the symptoms of debt, we need to find ways to prevent the causes.
I recently spoke with a Consumer Credit Counseling provider who told me about a woman who had achieved three masters degrees and was facing $150,000 in student loan debt without any major job prospects. She had been a student for a long time, but had not sought any work experiences or employment during her time in school. She had virtually no real-world experience beyond the classroom.
Upon graduation, she was shocked to learn that her student loan payments would eclipse any sort of starting wage income she could find. This should not have been a mystery – or a surprise.
The bottom-line is that the best way to reduce student loan interest is to reduce student loans; and the best way to reduce student loans is to avoid borrowing more than necessary to finance education.
In order to help future and current students, as well as graduates, manage these issues, I have been working with several of my colleagues to introduce a set of bills we are calling The College Affordability Legislative Package.
Representative Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) and I led a group of my colleagues in the release of the College Affordability Legislative Package, which includes five common sense changes to alleviate the financial burden on Wisconsin students. These bills are common sense reforms that address a range of issues facing students in higher education. We want students to be more informed regarding their investment in education and create resources for success when they graduate.
The provisions in these bills will provide students with: additional information about their student loans 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 brain-drain.
Financial Literacy Letters: Often times, many students are unaware of the payments and burden when they take on student loan debts for school. This bill requires that all higher education institutions send their students a letter with information about their loans, monthly payments, and loan interest rates so that they can be better informed when making financial decisions as they progress through school.
Micro-grant Program: A micro-grant is a small emergency grant to cover an unplanned expense for a college student to prevent them from dropping out of school. Unfortunately, these financial emergencies can cause a student to drop out of school, especially when they are a non-traditional student who works while they attend school. Small grants of under $500 would be awarded to Tech College and two-year college students with an unplanned financial emergency, using an application-based system. A similar grant program was implemented for the Technical College System and they reported a 28% increase in retention among students receiving the grants.
Deducting All Student Loan Interest: According to the Institute for College Access & Success, student loan debt averages $28,810 per student in Wisconsin. This bill eliminates the cap on the tax deduction for student loan interest. This would save student loan debt payers $5.2 million annually statewide. This change is estimated to benefit roughly 32,000 married and single tax filers. The average benefit per filer is approximately $165. Wisconsin would be the only state in the Midwest to allow all interest deductible for student loans.
Internship Coordinators for the UW Schools: After students graduate, we should encourage a smooth transition from their studies to gainful employment. Often times, I hear that employers have openings but students are ill-trained or do not apply for the jobs. This is why I have authored a bill that would provide funding for the UW System schools to create internship opportunities by connecting employers with potential employees.
Internship Coordinators for the Department of Workforce Development (DWD): At the state level, we should be utilizing resources to develop our workforce and keep Wisconsin students in Wisconsin. This bill would create two internship coordinator positions at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to connect employers with the universities and colleges and create internship opportunities.
These bills now await a public hearing and executive session in both houses of the legislature before reaching the floor for votes. I am confident that these bills will be passed in a bipartisan fashion that will set students up for success and bring financial relief to students across Wisconsin.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.