Wisconsin “Task Force” Explores Solutions to State-wide Student Loan Debt
By Jessica Easto
The state of Wisconsin has organized a student loan “task force” to explore solutions to the state’s ballooning student loan problem. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report, Wisconsin residents collectively owe $24.4 billion in student loans and over 700 student loan complaints have been filed with the bureau as of 2016.
The task force was created from an idea presented by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers as part of his “efforts to create a statewide refinancing entity that can offer interest rate savings to Wisconsin student loan debtors,” according to reports. Members of the task force include Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, State Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld, and Higher Educational Aids Board Executive Secretary Connie Hutchison.
The governor originally budgeted $50,000 dollars to create a Student Loan Refinancing Study Committee to “research and report ways to ease the burden of student loan debt.” That money was removed by the Joint Finance Committee, but despite this, Godlewski and the others in the scaled-down task force have started touring the state to listen to the stories of those who have been impacted by student loan debt.
According to Godlewski, who herself had $75,000 of debt with 9 percent interest when she graduated college, the task force must fully understand the student loan issues facing Wisconsin residents before constructing solutions. This summer, the task force embarked on a multi-city tour of “listening sessions” to do just that.
The first listening session was held in June in Onalaska.
“We heard from people who came early on and said, ‘I wish I would have had better counseling to let me know that 9 percent interest was high or I would have lost my federal benefits if I were to refinance.’ To other students saying, ‘I need to take out these student loans because the money also helps me live,’” Godlewski said. “There’s a diversity of issues and as a result we’re going to have to look at this from multiple facets.”
More recently, the task force held its second listening session at the Washington Park Library in Milwaukee. There, the task force heard from graduates like Becky Cooper-Clancy, a small-business owner and 2008 alumna of Marquette University who still owes $750 more than her original student loan balance despite making payments for 10 years.
“If we weren’t completely crushed with student debt, we’d be spending that money in the community,” said Cooper-Clancy.
These task force sessions include a roundtable panel discussion and then time for input from the audience. The task force plans to visit other cities to get a comprehensive picture of the impact of student debt across the state.