The recent increase in student debt now totals $1.2 trillion, making the student loan debt crisis the fastest growing debt and the only debt to increase since the recession.
Students, faculty members, and state officials met Tuesday, April 22 in the CCC room 101 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. to discuss the issue in regards to our economic future.
“To keep the economy from going stagnant we have to be willing to invest in education. This is our future workforce,” said Wisconsin state senator Julie Lassa. “To solve this issue, we need to make higher education affordable because we need skilled workers to build our future workforce.”
In the 1970s, the state funded 50 percent of University of Wisconsin school’s budget with students making up the other half. The state funding has now dropped to 16 percent, pressuring tuition costs to skyrocket, and forcing more and more students to take out loans.
“Students are making up that difference through higher tuition costs. The state is underfunding public universities and expecting students to pick up that tab,” said Wisconsin state representative Katrina Shankland.
On average, students from Wisconsin will graduate with loans totaling $28,102 based off of statistics from individuals receiving a Bachelor’s degree. It is also estimated that it will take 18.7 years with monthly payments of $350 to pay off that debt. As the interest builds over the years, the student will end up paying a grand total of $78,000.
“Essentially that is you giving $50,000 to out of state banks,” said Executive Director of the One Wisconsin Institute Scot Ross.
Mathematically, over the years of repayments, two-thirds of the funds students pay goes toward interest fees alone.
Sal Newton, a former UWSP student dropped out due to his inability to pay tuition and said, “It is easy to get wrapped up in the numbers, but the numbers de-individualize the issue. I’m just one of millions affected.”
As the roundtable discussion continued, students, including Newton, revealed their personal stories regarding student debt.
After two years of education at UWSP, Newton was forced to drop out under the heavy fees. In an effort to finish his college education, he enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan six months later. During his deployment, he was still required to make monthly installments on the student loans he left behind.
“You should not have to go to war to afford a college education,” Newton said.
When Newton came back, he finished college with the financial support of the Army, but is still faced with the debt he acquired prior to his enlistment.
“Thanks to student debt, my fiancé and I won’t be able to afford a loan until we are 45,” Newton said.
The money given to banks in the form of interest rates takes away from simple life pleasures.
“The extra costs take away from middle class purchases such as a vehicle and a home. People used to buy these commodities without a college education, but now students can’t afford them even if they have a degree,” Shankland said.
Purchases like vehicles and homes propel our economy by putting money into Wisconsin businesses and our local community.
Shankland spoke about a possible solution to the problem. The Higher Education, Lower Debt Act will give people the opportunity to refinance loans at a better rate and allow borrowers to deduct loan payments from their state income taxes.
“If students graduate with crushing loan debt, they are going to have fewer opportunities than their parents. This defies the American Dream. That is why I support the higher education bill, it provides opportunities for people with student loan debts,” Shankland said.
Due to elevated financial expenses, Deaken Boggs, a freshman pursuing a double major in natural resources management policy and land use planning, was unable to chase his original dream.
“I wanted to go straight into politics, go to be a lawyer, but because of my parents financial situation and the inability to afford my first college choice, I had to switch my career path and attend UWSP,” Boggs said.
Although Boggs’ current career choice is more environmentally focused and less politically charged, he states he is still fortunate to have the option to attend UWSP.
“I’m lucky to attend UWSP, but both my family and I feel regret because I wasn’t able to take the path I wanted to,” Boggs said.
The student loan debt crisis looms over the future of our country and its people.
“Student loans affect everything, the economy, the state, the country, the way we live, and whether we get houses and cars,” said Tyler Smith, a sophomore political science major.
As startling as statistics are, the personal stories humanize the issue.
“Stories put a face to the issue. Students are the best advocates,” Newton said.
To voice your story, Ross encouraged writing state legislators and representatives or even your local newspaper concerning the student loan debt crisis. Speaking up to show you care will make the issue real.
If you wish to voice your concerns and personal story anonymously, visit trilliondollardebt.com.