Original Article in The Cap Times

With only a few weeks left until the state Legislature votes on Scott Walker’s budget, the fate of the University of Wisconsin System still hangs in the balance. Most of the news media have moved on from covering the impact of the proposed $300 million in UW cuts, but Wisconsin students don’t have that luxury. From the out-of-state Badger freshman forced to transfer after a $10,000 tuition hike, to the working class sophomore unable to afford college after financial aid cuts, to the junior who can’t graduate in four years if her major is eliminated, thousands across the state will suffer if these cuts are passed.

Although Walker made no mention of this proposal during his re-election campaign, it’s unfortunately not too surprising; as a Republican presidential candidate, our governor is concerned more about donors in Iowa than he is about students in Wisconsin. University officials all over the state have already forecast program cuts, increased class sizes, and announced faculty layoffs in response to the proposed cuts, all of which will decrease the quality of higher education.

As someone who has finally achieved her lifelong goal of becoming a Badger, I am personally affected by these cuts — and the damage they will do. I grew up in a working-class household. I was raised by my father on a mechanic’s income, and for a good portion of my childhood, we lived without electricity or running water. This didn’t stop me from having dreams of pursuing a college degree. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to a school that works to include low-income students through its generous grants, scholarships and financial aid.

Under Scott Walker’s proposed cuts, I fear that the same assistance that made my dreams possible will be severely limited, or maybe not available at all. Last year, Walker’s 2011 budget cuts caused 41,000 students from technical schools and the UW System to be denied financial aid due to lack of funding. Paired with tuition hikes (like the $10,000 increase on out-of-state Badgers over four years), these further cuts to financial aid could be the barrier that keeps many students from pursuing higher education entirely.

My classmates already struggle to afford a college education. Today, more than 753,000 Wisconsinites hold an average of $22,400 in student loans, paying nearly $400 a month for almost 19 years. Scott Walker’s cuts will worsen the problem of student loan debt and make it far more difficult for students from middle class and working class families to have a fair shot at success. You shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to help send your child to college, and kids who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t be crippled by debt and held back from starting a family or purchasing a home or car after graduation.

Thanks to my education from UW-Madison, I’m hoping to pursue a law degree to work as a civil rights attorney with an expertise in voting rights. Unfortunately, the very same programs that helped me afford college are now on the chopping block. I want to graduate knowing that other hardworking young people from similar backgrounds can have the same opportunities I had. If Scott Walker’s cuts are passed, those opportunities may disappear.

The danger of these cuts extends far beyond Wisconsin. Students can view what is happening in Wisconsin right now as a taste of a Walker presidency. If Walker’s presidential aspirations are met, his assault on affordable higher education will become a national reality. Wisconsin legislators will vote on the budget soon and it’s not too late to make your voice heard. It’s up to students, faculty, alumni, and everyone else who believes in public education to stand up and speak out against his plan to slash the UW System. Otherwise, students across the country may someday face a similar fate.

Phoenix Rice-Johnson is finishing her junior year at UW-Madison and is chair of College Democrats of Wisconsin.

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