While some critics of Gov. Scott Walker’s College Affordability Package expressed disappointment over the lack of a provision for student loan refinancing, supporters said the bills will alleviate the burden of student loans, at a public hearing Thursday.

Ray Cross, University of Wisconsin System president, said the package will help students throughout Wisconsin by decreasing student loan debt.

“These six bills … are a good start and will undoubtedly be a benefit to the 180,000 students enrolled in our system,” Cross said.

The bills focus on individual tax deduction, additional grants for technical college students, promoting more secured internships for students and providing students with information related to financial literacy and educational costs.

Walker proposes plan to make college more affordable, but no financial aid increase for UW SystemEarlier this week Gov. Scott Walker announced a multi-faceted plan to make higher education more affordable, a step one expert said was positive, Read…

One of the six bills provides more financial aid to technical colleges, but not to four year universities.

Morna Foy, Wisconsin Technical College System president, said having more financial aid is one of the most important ways to contribute to the economy.

Cross also said the savings for students would have a positive impact on the state.

“I believe this is one of the best ways that the public can invest, because they’re going to see a return on that investment,” Cross said.

Foy said 70 percent of students who attend community and technical colleges are independent, meaning they pay for it themselves. She said these students are the ones who need aid the most.

Rep. Jill Billings, D-LaCrosse, said student loan refinancing should have been included in the college affordability package to help alleviate student loans. She said more than 1 million people in Wisconsin have student loan debt.

“A lot of my friends have seen a monthly benefit from being able to refinance, and I hear a lot of people asking for that,” Billings said. “I’m disappointed that this wasn’t part of this package.”

Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said student loan interest rates are higher than those for any other loans that citizens take out. He said with normal loans, people can file bankruptcy and lose their assets, but with student loans, people just have to keep paying. He believes the least the state could do is lower interest rates. 

Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, said implementing refinancing in the bills would not reduce student debt. He said refinancing helps, but it doesn’t actually solve the issues. He said refinancing is like paying off a credit card with another credit card.

“Those programs don’t reduce debt,” Macco said. “All those programs do is stretch out the debt.”

One of the bills, which works to ensure more internships for students, was also discussed.

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, said UW-Oshkosh had offered sufficient amounts of paid internships, which was comparatively more than many of the other UW school districts. She said she hopes the internship program will provide these opportunities to other UW school students.

Billings countered by saying that even though the bill pushes students to be involved in more internships, it excludes certain populations of students who can’t afford to work for free in an internship.

The goal of the affordability package is to make college more affordable for Wisconsin families, Walker said in a statement.

“We want to make sure everyone who wants a job can find a job, which is why we are working to make higher education more affordable for our students and families,” Walker said.