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Wisconsin Advocate: Minnesota Took Our Idea On Student Loans

Wisconsin is third in the nation in student loan debt, and an advocate says Gov. Scott Walker's ideas on relieving the burden don't go far enough. (mj0007/iStockPhoto.com)
Wisconsin is third in the nation in student loan debt, and an advocate says Gov. Scott Walker's ideas on relieving the burden don't go far enough. (mj0007/iStockPhoto.com)
January 27, 2016

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin ranks third in the nation in student loan debt, and Gov. Scott Walker has been talking about some ideas he says will help deal with the growing debt.

But the student loan debt program coordinator at One Wisconsin Now, Analiese Eicher, says the governor's ideas, like more internships, don't go far enough and won't provide any real relief. She says Minnesota has just kicked off a comprehensive college debt refinancing program that will save borrowers hundreds of dollars every month.

"Wisconsin was the first to put this idea of refinancing out there, and what we've seen happen is that other states are seeing this idea and sort of taking it and running with it," says Eicher. "Some of us here with student loans are a little jealous."

Eicher is referring to the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, introduced several months ago, which would allow Wisconsin student loan holders to refinance their loans. That's what Minnesota's new program does. Republicans in the state Legislature have refused to move the bill forward, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying he'd rather wait to see how it works in Minnesota.

Eicher says many people don't realize how big an issue student loan debt is in Wisconsin. The numbers alone tell the story.

"We have close to a million student loan borrowers in Wisconsin, who hold, like, $19 billion worth of debt," she says. "That's a lot of money and a lot of people who aren't able to fully participate in our economy, who would benefit by having a lower monthly payment."

According to the Minnesota Higher Education Commission, the new refinancing plan will lower student loan payments between $200 and $300 a month, and could save the borrower tens of thousands of dollars in interest charges.

Eicher says student loan debt in Wisconsin is a big drag on the state's economy, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments which don't directly benefit the state's economy. And she's not just talking about buying cars and houses.

"It's the ability to go out and support that local business, to go out for dinner, to patronize shops on Main Street, to save for retirement, for all of those things that we expect folks to do once they graduate college and start working," Eicher says.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI