Mary Burke will stand up for student loan borrowers

Sept. 3, 2014

Throughout his first term, the message Scott Walker has sent to students in Wisconsin is clear: college affordability is not a priority. That’s why young voters plan to choose Mary Burke for governor this November.

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and its now the second largest consumer debt in the country – second only to home mortgages. More than 750,000 Wisconsin citizens hold federal student loan debt, with thousands more facing massive amounts of debt from private lenders.

Depending on a part-time job to pay for college is no longer a viable option. In the past twelve 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 family, others have scholarships and grants, but so many students receive no assistance at all.

The average student is graduating with $22,400 in student loans, paying nearly $400 a month for almost nineteen years. They’re saddled with mountains of debt before they even walk across the commencement stage.

Any way you slice it, college affordability is a real problem. If we don’t act, student debt is poised to limit the opportunities for students to enter the middle class and participate fully in our economy.

This problem of economy and opportunity affects more than just students – it affects the prosperity of our state. When hundreds of dollars leave households each month to pay student loans, those dollars don’t go to Wisconsin businesses; they go straight into the pockets of lenders.

Recent studies show that student loan debt inhibits borrowers from buying homes, cars, and participating in other events we regard as milestones. Wisconsin’s economy is already lagging behind; we’re dead last in Midwest job growth since Walker took office in 2011, with college tuition on the rise student borrowers will only send more money out of the state – or move away from their home-state altogether.

It’s an impending crisis that Scott Walker just doesn’t seem to understand.

During his first term, Scott Walker’s only responses to the crisis have been to cut funding to the UW System by $250 million, reduce funding for the Technical college system by 30 percent, and an election year stopgap proposal to freeze tuition rates for another two years.

Cuts and freezes make good talking points for Walker’s stump speech, but they don’t 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 doesn’t 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 understands that students and their families are hurt by Scott Walker’s cuts and each day they feel the pinch of financing a college education. She knows that graduates have to make tough choices just to make sure they can afford their monthly payments. She knows we can’t wait for relief; Wisconsin students need help now!

In contrast to Scott Walker, Mary Burke is looking to the future. As governor, Burke will help create a more educated workforce, increase consumer spending, and spur small business creation in Wisconsin.

Mary’s plan “Invest for Success” dedicates an entire strategy with action steps on how to make college affordable and retain college degree earners in Wisconsin. It includes many of the same provisions of the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act introduced by Senate and Assembly Democrats, like allowing students to refinance loans at reduced rates, deduct college tuition payments from taxes, and increase how much they can deduct on state tax forms. In addition, she wants individuals to know what they’re signing up for from the very beginning by providing students and their parents with the necessary information to be smart loan consumers.

Contrary to Walker’s entire first term, Mary’s ideas on college affordability flow from the same vein of the great Wisconsin tradition we’re all proud to represent.

With just a few weeks left until Election Day, it’s 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.