Town hall meeting deals with issue of student debt
Written By: Nathan Vine
STEVENS POINT — Deaken Boggs said his concern when looking at which colleges to attend wasn’t how much attending would cost but what he wanted to learn.
Now a freshman at the University at the Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Boggs said he knows that the cost of higher education is a major factor for students. On Tuesday, he took part in a town hall meeting on student debt on the UWSP campus. The meeting was hosted by state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and One Wisconsin Institute, a nonprofit progressive advocacy group.
The purpose of the event was to hear from students, faculty and the community members about their student debt experiences. Local representatives also talked about the “Higher Ed, Lower Debt” bill, legislation introduced by Democrats that would allow student borrowers to refinance their student loans at a lower interest rate and allow student loan payments to be a state tax deduction.
The issue of paying for college currently affects 40 million Americans, who have an estimated $1.2 trillion in student debt according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt — not including private student loan debt — with an average debt of $22,400 and monthly loan payments of $338.
At UWSP, nearly 80 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. According to the Financial Aid Office, the average student loan debt was $27,167 for students completing bachelor’s degrees in 2011-12, the most recent data available.
Shankland, Lassa, and One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross encouraged those in attendance to write letters, contact representatives and support legislation to reduce student debt.
“We’ve seen public funding continue to dwindle, and that’s caused the cost to continue to rise for students,” Shankland said. “Making higher education more affordable is important for these students and our economy.”
Boggs, 19, of Williams Bay said he originally wanted to attend Grinnell College and double major in pre-law and environmental science. While his parents had saved up about $80,000 for his education, Boggs found out the annual cost to attend Grinnell, at over $50,000 a year, would end up leaving him in serious debt. Boggs said he then decided to attend UWSP, at a cost of about $8,000 annually, but needed to change his double major to land use planning and natural resource management policy because his original choices weren’t available.
Carol Scipior, associate director of the UWSP Financial Aid Office, said she deals with students considering whether to take out loans for their education on a regular basis, and said her advice is to know your limits. Scipior said students should go to websites where they can calculate their future student loan payments, figure out how much they might be able to pay, and try to start putting away some money to help with the debt later.
“The key thing is you need to keep on top of it. It can be easy to get some of these loans, but you are going to have to deal with them at some point,” Scipior said.