Wisconsin ranked eighth in the nation for the highest percentage of college graduates carrying debt, according to a recently released report from the Institute for College Access and Success.
According to a new state-by-state analysis from the ICAS, 68 percent of students graduating from four-year institutions in Wisconsin in 2012 graduated with debt.
Wisconsin ranked 14th overall in average student loan debt with total debt averaging at $28,102 per student.
Matthew Reed, program director from ICAS, said there are several factors that could have played into Wisconsin’s high debt ranking.
One of these factors may be that the grant aid given by the state of Wisconsin may be low compared to other states, Reed said.
The federal government in addition to the state and universities could make borrowing easier by strengthening need-based grants, Reed added.
“During the times of economic downturn, many universities increased their tuition, and at the same time, families have fewer resources which caused them to take out more loans to attend school,” Reed said.
Earlier this legislative session, Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, introduced the “Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act” aimed to help borrowers refinance their student loans and allow borrowers to deduct their student loan payments on their state income taxes.
The bill would also require the option of counseling on the implications of loans, and track data about student loan debt in the state to help policy makers better understand the debt crisis in Wisconsin.
Hansen said the recent report makes the passing of the bill “even more urgent,” since 68 percent “is a staggering number.”
The average borrower could save thousands of dollars in interest under the plan, Hansen added.
“The average student in Wisconsin is over $28,000 in debt and will spend nearly 19 years of their life paying back their student loans,” Hansen said. “If we can’t fix the high cost of higher education then at the very least we should make sure they can refinance their loans at the lowest interest rates possible and provide tax breaks on their student loan costs.”
Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, vice-chair of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee, said he is an advocate for reducing student debt and that he does not know whether he is for or against the bill.
“This bill has some good points to it, but there are a lot of details that I could have an issue with,” Murphy said. “The good part of it is that it would cause the universities to take more stake into what the earning power of the student might be after they graduate.”