Gov. Scott Walker signed most of his college affordability package into law Monday.
The first law will increase funding for grants for students in technical colleges. The second will provide emergency grants for students who are facing unexpected financial crises. These grants will also be available to students at two-year and technical colleges.
The third law Walker signed will require the Department of Workforce Development to connect students with internship opportunities. The fourth law will require all higher education institutions to inform students about their loans and encourage financial literacy.
Walker said in a statement that making higher education more affordable is “one of the most important things” and would move Wisconsin forward. He said he will continue to work toward keeping college costs low in the future.
One bill that would have allowed students with student loans above $2,500 to seek tax deductions on their interest was not passed in the Senate’s session on March 16 and consequently not signed into law.
Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said in a statement that these laws will help make higher education “more affordable” and allow students to make better financial decisions.
“These three bills will provide financial assistance, help students find work experiences and give students more information about their individual, personal financial commitments while in school,” Marklein said.
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement that the college affordability laws are “anemic” and will do nothing to address student debt. He said the bill that would give tax deductions was the only one that could give some relief to people in debt, and Republicans did not pass it.
“These Republican bills do nothing to address the burden of student debt and the people of Wisconsin shouldn’t fall for the Republicans’ lack of action with these modest election-year smoke and mirrors,” Barca said.
Student loan debt specialist
In addition to signing the college affordability bills, Walker and the Department of Financial Institutions created the position of a student loan debt specialist. The specialist will work to link college and high school student loan borrowers in need with resources, DFI spokesperson, Thomas Evenson, said. The specialist will also give high school and college students access to financial education and counseling.
Evenson said the specialist will work with the University of Wisconsin Office of Financial Literacy and the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy to develop an outreach program that will inform college students, parents and teachers about debt management and investment. He said the specialist will create a website outlining these resources as well.
“The student loan debt specialist will work with the Office of Financial Literacy to promote the importance of career and college readiness,” Evenson said.
Walker said in a statement that Cheryl Weiss will serve as the student loan debt specialist. Weiss worked with DFI for 15 years as a public information officer and information technology specialist.
Walker said the specialist will help educate high school and college students about how to make college more affordable.
“College affordability is a priority for our administration,” Walker said. “This specialist will work with borrowers to inform them of their options and direct them to resources wherever possible.”