September 18, 2013

Back to School

By: Saul Newton

College students across the state of Wisconsin are back to school. I am one of those students. We have been told that if we work hard and make sacrifices, we will have the opportunity to earn a piece of the American dream. For decades, a college education was a pathway to the middle class and economic security. This is no longer a reality for students in Wisconsin today.

I know this reality all too well.

I know the desire to pursue my education, although my working family could not afford the tuition, even at a state university.

I know the devastating price tag of college and the exhaustion of working several jobs to make ends meet.

My only option to afford a college education was to enlist in the military and receive the benefits of the GI Bill. Two years into my college career, I joined the US Army and less than a year later was deployed to the streets of Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

My story is not unique. I am fortunate that I can now afford the enormous expense of higher education because of the GI Bill, but I realize that I am one of the lucky few.

The numbers don’t lie.

After years of funding cuts to higher education and tuition hikes, students across the country are faced with a trillion dollar debt crisis. 37 million Americans are paying off college loans. The college student who strives for access to economic security is burdened with a crushing debt taking years, and sometimes lifetimes, to work off.

Beyond the cost, the sacrifice, and debt, the fact is that we did nothing to create this crisis. Students are sentenced to decades of economic prison through no fault of our own.

The interest rates on Stafford student loans were doubled this year because of Congressional inaction. Rather than standing up for Wisconsin families, radicals like Ron Johnson laid 180,000 state university students out to dry. Though a deal has now been struck to partly address this issue, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites are still beholden to crushing student loan debt.

Wisconsin, led by Scott Walker and the Tea Party extremists in the legislature, has been devastated by the ideological attack on higher education. In Walker’s first budget, Wisconsin had the third largest cut to public higher education in the nation, producing a tuition increase of $107 million in the midst of the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Moreover, the 2013 budget jammed down the throats of Wisconsinites cut the University of Wisconsin system by $315 million and left our technical colleges funded at 1989 levels. Republicans refused to invest any new funding in financial aid, rejecting tens of thousands of students from access to affordable higher education.

Wisconsin students and families are bearing the brunt of Scott Walker’s assault on Wisconsin. We are entering the workforce in a state ranked 50th in short-term job growth nationally. Rather than creating businesses, buying homes, and helping to grow our economy, the average student carries a crushing debt of $35,000 plus interest.

We bear a financial burden that condemns us to decades of indentured servitude because of ideological agendas and political ambition.

Some are caught in the ruthless cycle of student loan debt and college expenses. And some are turned away at the door by prohibitive costs and insufficient financial aid.

The simple fact of the matter is that a college education is the path to economic security and any hope of realizing the promise of opportunity. We’re not asking for a handout, but we are asking for a fair shot.

Rather than investing in Wisconsin’s future, Scott Walker is binding the hands of Wisconsin students and families. Students should not have to go to war in order to afford a college education. To build Wisconsin’s future, we cannot afford more of the same attacks that hold us back.

Saul Newton is a communications intern with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

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