As more students attend college, they incur student loan debt that is often unmanageable and unaffordable — something the state’s new Student Loan Debt Specialist Cheryl Weiss is trying to change.

Cheryl Weiss, Courtesy of George Althoff

Gov. Scott Walker and the Department of Financial Institutions created the debt specialist position within the Office of Financial Literacy. The intent was to have a person that could educate students and families about financial aid options that make it possible for all aspiring people to receive higher education, whether in a two or a four-year institution.

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Weiss will be working with all University of Wisconsin schools, including UW-Madison, to inform students about the options they have for making school more affordable, such as looking into the types of loans available and finding grants and scholarships, Weiss said.

With the goal of making sure anyone can achieve their educational dreams, Weiss said she is dedicated to minimizing the amount of debt students have.

“Higher education is a great investment and it can be affordable,” Weiss said. “I’m hoping to let [students] understand options that are available for everyone to achieve that.”

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One of her objectives, Weiss said, is to help put together a website which will provide all of the information about student debt in one accessible location.

Weiss has also worked with the UW System financial aid directors to gather information on the resources they have currently available for students so she can help them provide even more loan and student debt preparation.

Stephanie Marquis, UW System spokesperson said in an email to The Badger Herald that by creating Weiss’ position, Walker has provided an additional resource for families.

“We want to help our students get the personal and financial support they need in pursuit of their college education,” Marquis said.

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After attending UW-Green Bay and earning bachelor’s degrees in humanistic studies and business marketing, Weiss began working at the Department of Financial Institutions in 2001. Weiss said during that time, she worked for both the public relations and information technology departments, as well as the Office of Financial Literacy.

The debt specialist position gave Weiss the opportunity to move into a role that required more outreach and communication within Wisconsin.

Weiss said she has participated in several outreach efforts, with the goal of informing educators about appropriate debt management and education options. Weiss is currently helping the Department of Financial Institutions to leverage their relationships with key partners and stakeholders, and meeting with organized groups such as the Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Weiss said she also hosted an open forum at the National Institute of Economic Literacy where she taught educators how to present financial literacy in classrooms. She received feedback on how the educators were going to help students prepare for the costs of college.

Through these efforts Weiss hopes to help college students “maximize their human capital.”

Financial literacy is important for students to understand so they can improve their futures, Weiss said. She said she is looking forward to first-generation college students being able to afford and attend college. 

“My goal is to get the information out there saying continuing on is a great investment and there are ways to reduce your debt to accomplish that goal,” Weiss said.