Wisconsin is in a student debt crisis. Today, more than 750,000 Wisconsin citizens hold federal student loan debt, with thousands more facing massive amounts of debt from private lenders. The average student is graduating with $22,400 in student loans, paying nearly $400 a month for almost nineteen years. They are saddled with mountains of debt before they even walk across the commencement stage.
Depending on a part-time job to pay for college is no longer a viable option. In the past 12 years, tuition has doubled for Wisconsin residents, meaning higher debt loads for most students who want to pursue a college degree. Few are fortunate enough to have help from their families, others have scholarships and grants, but many students receive no assistance at all.
Unfortunately, throughout his first term, the message Scott Walker sent to students in Wisconsin was clear: college affordability is not a priority. That is why young voters plan to choose Mary Burke for governor this November.
During his first term, Scott Walker’s only responses to the crisis have been to cut funding to the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million, to reduce funding for the technical college system by 30 percent and to propose an election year stopgap to freeze tuition rates for another two years.
Cuts and freezes make good talking points for Walker’s stump speech, but they do not make college affordable in the long term. Tuition is only climbing higher and Scott Walker’s idea to extend the current UW System tuition freeze does not solve the problem of the skyrocketing cost of education or truly ease the burden borrowers face each month.
In fact, Walker and Republicans have ignored common sense solutions from Democrats to make higher education affordable, and reduce the debt burden graduates face each month.
Democrats like Mary Burke are committed to ensuring that every person in Wisconsin can earn an education and has a chance to succeed.
Mary’s plan “Invest for Success” dedicates an entire strategy with action steps on how to make college affordable. It includes many of the same provisions of the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act introduced by the Senate and Assembly Democrats, like allowing students to refinance loans at reduced rates, deducting college tuition payments from taxes, and increasing how much they can deduct on state tax forms. In addition, she wants individuals to know what they are signing up for from the very beginning by providing students and their parents with the necessary information to be smart loan consumers.
With just a few weeks left until election day, it is time for students to embrace the possibility of making college affordable once again and unite behind Mary Burke, a proven leader who will work day in and day out to help students in every corner of Wisconsin.
Zach Madden is a student at Edgewood College and is Chair of College Democrats of Wisconsin. Phoenix Rice-Johnson is a student at UW-Madison and Vice Chair of College Democrats of Wisconsin.