Higher Ed/Lower Debt Would Be a Win-Win for Wisconsin

 by Sen. Janis Ringhand


Now that the fall semester is under way, students on campuses throughout the state are settling in to face the reality of funding their college education. Thousands of college students in Wisconsin will rely on student loans as the primary source to pay for their education.


In Wisconsin there are nearly one million student loan borrowers, 70% of our college graduates, who are carrying almost $20 billion in debt. Wisconsin ranks 3rd in the nation for the highest percentage of college graduates with student loan debt. The average debt load for Wisconsin college graduates is $28,800 and rising each year. The student debt crisis has had a crippling effect on the purchasing power of young adults for years after graduating and entering the workforce. The ability to purchase a home or a car is placed on the back burner while students pay off loans at inflated interest rates.


To combat the problem and help make college more affordable I co-authored the Higher Ed/Lower Debt legislation which was first introduced in October 2013 and has languished in both houses of the legislature since. Fifty-Nine legislators sponsored the Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill last session. Governor Walker and the Republican controlled legislature have denied student loan borrowers the opportunity to refinance their loans at lower interest rates, just like you can with a home mortgage.


Addressing the issue of ballooning student debt needs to be a priority for the state legislature. While the Republican controlled legislature has focused on giving billions in tax breaks to corporations and prioritized a $21 million tax break for 11 of the wealthiest individuals in the state, the Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill remains stalled.


Recent history has shown a reluctance by Republican legislators to break with the Governor on major policy issues and the Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill is no exception. However, it would only take a few independently minded individuals to join Democrats in recognizing that Higher Ed/Lower Debt would be a win-win for Wisconsin students and families.


Higher Ed/Lower Debt would allow hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers across Wisconsin to refinance their loans at market-based rates and at no cost to taxpayers. It would pump millions of dollars into local economies by increasing the purchasing power of nearly one million people statewide. It is time for Wisconsin to acknowledge that the student loan crisis is crippling the ability of a generation of young adults to participate in our economy.


I will continue to fight for the Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill and worked to convince my Republican colleagues to support this proposal to relieve the student loan debt burden in Wisconsin.


# # #