By Brett Healy
Governor Scott Walker announced Tuesday expanded eligibility for joining the UW Credit Union. In addition to past or present students of the UW System, “any Wisconsin resident who is currently enrolled or has attended any accredited institution of higher education can do business with the UW Credit Union,” according to the press release that accompanied the announcement.
The net effect of this is to increase the ability of student loan debtors to consolidate or refinance their loans at lower interest payments through the credit union. In addition, the government is launching the ‘Look Forward to Your Future’ website which lists thirteen private banks that offer student loan refinancing as well as information regarding student loan repayment plans and loan calculators.
The website and expansion of eligibility for the UW Credit Union are part of an effort to ease the burden of student loan debt. There are 812,000 student loan borrowers in Wisconsin in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Education. According to Gannett, “70 percent of Wisconsin students who graduated from four-year colleges in 2014 had student debt.” In Wisconsin, Gannett also reports the average debt of Wisconsin graduates went from $17,000 to $29,000 by 2013.
Nationally, student loan debt is now $1.3 trillion. Just ten years ago, the total student loan debt was $447 billion. Part of the explosion in total student debt is the expansion in the number of borrowers. According to a White House report, approximately 23 million individuals held student debt in 2004. By 2015, that number grew to 40 million.
That growth in the number of borrowers corresponds with a growth in the cost of tuition. While some have blamed increased tuition on decreased funding of universities at the state level, the cost of tuition has gone up at both private and public universities. It’s more likely that tuition went up as easy money, increased student loan availability, flooded the market in an effort by universities to capture those funds.