Gov. Scott Walker announced a legislative package on college affordability Monday that would eliminate the cap on student loan interest that borrowers can deduct from their state income tax, putting an average $165 extra in taxpayers’ pockets.
The package of bills drawn up by Republican lawmakers also provides students with additional information about their student loans so they can make smart financial decisions, emergency assistance so they can stay in school and internship opportunities to connect students with Wisconsin employers.
First, this is pretty much like trying to kill an elephant with a spitball. The state ranks third in the country in terms of student loan debt, with 70 percent of the class of 2014 reporting an average debt burden of nearly $29,000. That $165 bucks per year isn’t going to scratch the surface of what these kids will be paying back.
Second, and this may be unclear to our “let them eat cake” legislators, but students don’t take out massive loans due to a lack of education. It’s not as though they sit back and think, “Loans? Those are the free-money things, right? Gimme a bunch of those.” The cost of college continues to rise, even with this alleged “tuition freeze” Walker keeps touting. Fees continue to increase and compound, books cost a ridiculous amount of money and it’s not getting any cheaper to live on or off campus.
Students don’t want to take out loans any more than other people want to live off their credit cards or use those Kwik Kash places. They do it because they are desperate and they lack options.
This is the true cost of people who rage about their taxes going up by pennies and the state turning the higher education system into a political punching bag. By cutting state funding to state colleges and universities, you continue to saddle students with more and more debt. This makes it cost-prohibitive for them to enter certain fields, make certain purchases and become productive members of society.
All of which, of course, gets then blamed on overpaid professors and all those damned philosophy and women’s studies majors.
If the state really wants to have an impact on the cost of higher education, it needs to provide a sizable portion of aid to its colleges and universities. Nearly 40 years ago, the state provided about 44 percent of the system’s budget. This year, it’s down to 17 percent. One organization notes that if this continues on its current pace, by 2040 the state will contribute nothing.
It’s doubtful that will happen, as the state has a vested interest in contributing as little as possible to the system while still being able to lord over it. I imagine it will level out at about 4 percent in 20 years and hold steady.
At which point, legislators will once again cluck their tongues at those irresponsible kids who continue to take out bigger and bigger loans with no thought to how that debt will impact their futures.