Democratic candidate for governor Kathleen Falk introduced the new “Wisconsin Student Loan Debt Crisis Initiative” last week, which aims to decrease the amount of student loan debt Wisconsin students accumulate over four years in college.
According to data from the Project on Student Loan Debt, about 67 percent of college students in Wisconsin will graduate with debt. The amount of student loan debt accumulated averages at $24,627. Falk’s initiative claims to attack this problem by working with federal officials and instituting new consumer awareness programs.
Scot Ross, Falk’s communications director, said the plan puts a necessary emphasis on research.
“This issue hasn’t yet been addressed at the state level,” he said. “There is important analysis that needs to be done.”
Falk’s plan outlines three main points to tackle student loan debt and bring university costs down. The first of these is implementing “Know before you owe” programs, which would aim to educate students and their families about student loan rules and regulations.
Falk’s campaign claims that this program is currently “under development with the Federal Consumer Financial and Protection Bureau.”
The plan also includes creating a “debt relief pipeline” for Wisconsin students and their families trying to pay for college. This would mean working with federal leaders to expand Pell grants and helping students work with colleges to keep costs affordable.
John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette, said the amount of student loan debt students graduate with should be manageable for most.
“The average amount of debt, a bit under $25,000, is hardly oppressive, especially given low and often subsidized interest rates,” he said.
The final facet of Falk’s plan is to work with Wisconsin colleges and universities to negotiate costs and analyze the economic costs of students graduating with debt.
Given the ambiguity of these plans, some students feel Falk’s plan is more focused on problem identification than actual solutions.
Pat Garrett, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said that the program sounds too vague to work.
“I would start off by saying that it is normal for students to graduate with a degree of student debt; college is expensive,” Garrett said. “The proposal here is very vague, and therefore I do not know if it will work or not. She doesn’t get specific on what this ‘actionable plan’ is. This is not really a plan; she is stating a problem and giving no specifics on how to fix it.”
Ross said Falk’s plan is mostly focused on research attempting to find out what problems can be fixed in the future.
“We don’t know how much (student loan debt) is affecting the state’s economy,” he said. “Instead of buying homes and cars, college graduates are paying off student loans. If we do analysis to identify solutions, we can find out where we might need to legislate.”
McAdams said Falk’s initiative may be more of a campaign ploy than an actual plan of action against student loan debt.
“Everybody is pandering to college student voters, including Barack Obama and George Clooney, so it’s no surprise that Falk would,” McAdams said. “The irony here is that students ought to have to pay a substantial amount of their education costs with loans. It’s fundamentally unfair for taxpayers to pay for the education of higher income earners.”