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Average student loan debt in Wisconsin shoots up 74 percent in a decade

Average student loan debt in Wisconsin shoots up 74 percent in a decade

College Commencement Then and Now (copy) (copy)

The average student debt in Wisconsin grew 74 percent between 2004 and 2014 — much more than the average nationwide — according to a new report by The Institute for College Access & Success.

Wisconsin college graduates in 2014 carried an average $28,810 in debt, compared to $16,560 a decade earlier, said the nonprofit organization’s newly released 10th annual report on student debt. The average increase in debt at graduation among states was 56 percent, more than double the rate of inflation (25%) over the 10-year period.

What’s more, the percentage of students in Wisconsin graduating with debt rose to 70 percent, the third highest among states.

Advocacy group One Wisconsin Now sees the new data as more evidence that changes in state law are needed to ease the burden of college debt on students and their families.

“It’s time for Gov. Walker and Republican state leaders to stop offering sound bites and gimmicks and deliver the real reform that Wisconsin borrowers need,” Analiese Eicher, student loan debt program director for OWN, said in a statement.

The Legislature's Republican majority has scheduled committee hearings for a bill that would create a state-based authority to help student loan borrowers refinance their loans at lower interest rates and extend a tax break to student loan payments.

The Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act went to hearing last year, but was defeated in a party line vote in committee. A revised version of the Democratic bill had a hearing before the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges earlier this month, but its future is uncertain.

“Student loan borrowers in Wisconsin continue to pay the price for Gov. Walker and the Republican Legislature’s indifference to the student loan debt crisis,” Eicher said.

The Institute for College Access and Success’ policy recommendations look beyond interest rates to more fundamental change, including:

  • Reduced need to borrow through increased income-eligible grants and state investment in higher education.
  • Improved and streamlined income-based repayment plans and better loan servicing.
  • Strengthened college accountability by tying federal aid program eligibility to student loan default rates.

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