Madison residents flocked to the Wisconsin State Capitol Wednesday for the state Senate’s public hearing of the “Higher Education, Lower Debt” bill, which would lower interest rates and offer a tax deduction for student loan payments.
The bill would also create a board, named the Wisconsin Student Loan Refinancing Authority, which would develop a program to help students in the state refinance their student loans. If created, the board would be the first of its kind in the country, according to state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.
The Senate chambers were “crowded” Wednesday as not only current students, but community members still trying to pay off their student loans, shared their opinions and support for the bill, Hansen said.
Jenni Dye, a Dane County Supervisor for District 33, broke down into tears during her testimony at the hearing, saying she felt greatly burdened by her student loan debt.
“We talk about getting married, we talk about having kids, but it’s hard to think that I’m going to be paying off these loans when my kids are in college,” Dye said.
Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, also testified at the hearing, comparing college graduates to “indentured servants” who are forced to serve a “multiple decade debt sentence” while paying back loans at current interest rate levels.
“If we fail to act, [student loan debt] will blossom to an economic catastrophe,” Ross said.
According to Hansen, current students and graduates are responsible for $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt across the nation, and the average college graduate accumulates $27,000 in loan debt and takes 18 and a half years to pay off their debt.
Hansen also said many students pay up to 9 percent interest on their student loans and quoted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., saying, “If Wall Street can borrow at .75 percent, at less than one percent interest, than so can college students.”
“We need to stop treating students as profit centers, and that’s what’s going on,” he added.
The bill will next face a public hearing in the state Assembly Monday.