Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wisconsin Representatives reflect on student loan debt

Henry Erdman

State legislators participating in a student debt panel on campus Tuesday said despite holding statewide elected offices, they are still paying off the loans they took out to finance their college education.

“I too have student loan debt, so I understand the struggle,” Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said at the Making College Affordable Roundtable event at Memorial Union.

Other legislators joining Johnson included Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison; Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison; Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee; Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee; Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville; Senate Majority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee; and Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.


The legislators spoke of their own student debt situations, many of whom are still making payments.

Zamarripa said she had $27,000 of student loan debt when she graduated, and she will not be done with payments until she is 45.

Riemer added he is currently accumulating debt now because he is a part-time UW law student.

Scot Ross, executive director of progressive research group One Wisconsin Now, said the $1.2 trillion in national student loan debt not only hinders students in their college years but affects the economy.

Two-thirds of students with loan debt are more likely to have purchased a used car than a new car, creating a huge loss in car manufacturing nationwide. In addition, those students are less likely to purchase a home, Ross said.

Purchasing cars and homes are essential to fueling the economy, he said.

Since students are still buying less expensive homes and cars, Johnson said defaulting on loans is not an option for students.

“If you default on student loans, you can’t do anything, basically,” Johnson said. “It’s a negative impact on credit.”

Ann DeGarmo, secretary of the Young Progressives, a liberal student group who helped organize the College Affordability Tour, spoke of her experiences as a working student.

DeGarmo said in high school, she worked 30 hours in a retail management position, which brought in $10,000 a year. However, her pay was not nearly enough to cover her tuition in addition to other expenses for college, such as sorority dues.

“I missed out on a lot that year,” DeGarmo said.

As a parent, Johnson said seeing her 16-year-old daughter experience the beginnings of student life was difficult.

Johnson said she hoped that when she became mother, she would be able to assist her daughter in paying for college.

“I tell her everyday to keep her grades up because she needs a scholarship to go to college,” Johnson said. “I can help her cover her housing or books, but there’s no way I can cover her tuition.”

Student representatives also voiced concerns about the cost of housing and unpaid internships.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, was also in attendance; however, he did not join the panel.

Hulsey criticized the panel’s legislators for not voting for his June budget proposal to bring $273.8 million back to UW System students and faculty.

“As a parent of a UW student, our politicians need to be honest and put our money where their mouths are,” he said.

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