Student debt task force claws closer to solutions for Wisconsinites.

In their second meeting, the Governor’s Task Force On Student Debt heard from experts, debtors and the Governor. Graphic: Sam Buisman
Listen to the audio version of this story here, originally aired on 5/28/20.

Author: Sam Buisman

The Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt conducted their second meeting Wednesday afternoon, zeroing in on solutions to Wisconsin’s mounting crisis.

Led by Secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions Kathy Blumenfeld, the 32-person task force held an exploratory meeting focused on gathering data to understand and expert recommendations to curb the state’s ballooning student debt. In this vein, the meeting also featured testimonials from indebted Wisconsinites to spotlight their perspectives.

One of these speakers, Milwaulkee native Maricha Harris, recounted how an increase in her monthly student loan payments forced her to choose between paying down her debt or paying for vaccines for her two children.

“I remember telling my student loan holders my situation and getting the response ‘I don’t want to hear your sad, sappy story,’” said Harris. “And those are words that I’ll never forget.”

Governor Tony Evers also addressed the Task Force during their meeting and emphasized the parasitic effects of student debt on the state’s citizens and economy before reminiscing on his own experience with college affordability. 

“Now this is gonna age me here, but I can remember going to UW-Madison, and I started in 1969,” said the Governor. “It used to be if you worked during the summer that was enough to cover your tuition. Well, that is obviously not the case anymore.”

Wednesday marked the second meeting of this task force, which the Governor created via executive order back in January. These first few meetings are structured to educate and present potential solutions on Wisconsin student debt to the group, who will then prepare a suite of policy recommendations.

Secretary Blumenfeld said during the meeting that the task force expects to begin identifying some of their possible recommendations by the fifth or sixth meeting.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, seniors who graduated from a Wisconsin college or university in 2018 held an average of $31,705 in student debt. For UW Madison, that figure fell slightly to $28,229.