Members of the University of Wisconsin’s student government hosted a question-and-answer session with a congressman representing the Madison area Monday to talk about student issues at the federal level.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, spoke to a group of about 15 students from various student government committees about student loan bills and addressed students’ questions on bipartisanship.
Andrew Bulovsky, Associated Students of Madison chair, said in a statement they hope to further strengthen students’ connections with Pocan’s office.
Pocan said many people in Congress are starting to address the problem of student loan debt, and he expects to see more new bills coming out about the issue.
“A lot of people recognize there is an affordability problem with the universities,” Pocan said.
He added the rising cost of education is not limited to Wisconsin or public universities but is a problem across the board.
Pocan said the new bills introduced to Congress, including the Student Loan Fairness Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., contain some good ideas but also raise some concerns.
“In general, I like the idea that there is a way to automatically take payments out but the question that is still out there a little bit is that it [the automatic payment] activates after you start to make a little bit of money but if you don’t have any income how does that affect rates for other students,” Pocan said.
Pocan recalled he paid about $3,500 for tuition per semester when he was a student at UW. He said he also worked several jobs to pay for his education, such as working at the Nitty Gritty.
According to Pocan, the average time to pay off student loans when he was in college was about five years, but the new waves of student loans with long payback periods can be extra burden on students.
“Now it has become 10, sometimes 20 years…when you are starting to have loans that long, that’s like a house mortgage,” Pocan said. “There is a completely different oversight over something that is 30-year-long.”
Pocan said he is curious to see what would happen in the area of student loan debt and will continue to look for good ideas in bills as they come out.
As a congressional freshman, Pocan also said he sometimes sees Congress from an outsider perspective and shared his insights on bipartisanship.
“One of the first observations was after we got elected. At the official government-organized receptions, the Republicans and Democrats were separated for two weeks, so they teach them bad behaviors even before they began,” Pocan said.
Having worked in the state Legislature for 14 years, Pocan said he has served with many types of majorities and gained practical experience working with members of the other party.
“The bottom line is that there is a pendulum of politics that moves and if you are in this for the long run and you want to get something done, and not to get to the next election,” Pocan said. “You got to be able to work with the other side.”
Morgan Rae, ASM Legislative Affairs Committee vice chair, said she found the meeting encouraging and helpful.
“He answered a lot of questions for us, and you can tell that he is really willing to work with us,” Rae said. “I think he will be able to help a lot on student loan reform which is such a huge issue.”