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Walker unveils affordable education initiatives at UWS

Jed Carlson/ Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday afternoon.

A portion of Wisconsin’s surplus could benefit students attending the state’s two-year technical colleges, two year colleges and four-year campuses.

And those who’ve completed their education could benefit in changes that would allow them to deduct the full cost of interest on student loans — now capped at $2,500.

Those are just a couple of the ideas Gov. Scott Walker presented Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin-Superior to make higher education more affordable.

“I’ve got two sons in college so just not as a governor but as a father I can relate to ensuring that our students get a quality education, but also an affordable one,” Walker said. He said the goal is the same for four-year campuses like UWS or at one of the two-year technical colleges or UW-Colleges.”

With an unprecedented four years under a tuition freeze, Walker estimated that students have saved on average $6,311, based on an average 8 percent annual increase in the decade before the freeze was put in place.

Walker said the new initiatives are designed to be the next step in keeping higher education affordable.

“We’re not announcing everything we’re going to announce in the state of the state; the will come next week,” Walker said. “But some of the things we’re highlighting ways of helping students gain access to an affordable higher education.”  

Among the things Walker said he will be asking the Legislature to pass is removing the cap from the deduction for student loan interest. He said while a larger number of Wisconsin residents have student loan debt the amount is the lowest of surrounding state.

“Student debt is an issue everywhere,” Walker said. “… We want those coping with student debt to be able to deduct 100 percent of that interest.”

The plan includes increasing funding for the Wisconsin grant to help an additional 1,000 students access a higher education and emergency grants to help students faced with unforeseen challenges to graduating finish their degrees.

Bonny Copenhaver, vice president of academic affairs at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, said emergency funding has proven to be a successful program WITC offers students to help them complete their education.

Walker said that’s not only good for students, but for employers in need of high demand skills throughout the state.

Additional funding would help provide internship opportunities for students, Walker said.

Another measure would be to provide students annually with information on their student loans so students can use that information to determine, which will allow students to take control of the pace and cost of a higher education.

“Our focus today is to provide a series of options,” Walker said.

“We’re supportive of anything that’s going to support student access to higher education,” said UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter. “… We’re pleased the governor is supportive of things that would help students.”

While critics say Walker’s plan doesn’t go far enough to make higher education more affordable because students don’t have an option to refinance their loans, Walker said it is something that has been looked at in detail. He said there has been discussion of creating an authority to help students refinance their loans, but it was discovered that states with those options actually increase costs for students.

“In Connecticut, where they have a program that provides state guaranteed student loans, what we found …we found a higher rate than you would get through federal student loans,” Walker said. “Rates are also higher in Rhode Island unless they can agree to a five-year term, have a co-signor and they agree to have first draw on their pay check go to pay off the loan. If you’re a student that can do all that, you can probably go somewhere else for less than that.”