Student loan debt topic of Baldwin visit

Natalie Connors, Editor in Chief

Unfortunately for many, being a student also means carrying student debt.

Many individuals graduate from school with the possibility of having to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. This terrifying prospect brought U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin to Madison College on Sept. 5 to listen to student perspectives on the challenges of paying for and paying back college tuition.

Students with a rich array of backgrounds and circumstances attended the roundtable discussion. Participants were encouraged to share their stories, questions, and ideas with the senator.

Bill Garrett, a Madison College student, worked for decades in carpentry. When the physical labor of the job became impossible due to injury, Garrett decided to try a different line of work. He returned to school to study addiction counseling. Now he makes $30,000 less a year, but says it’s worth it. He wants to give back to the community that helped him through difficult times.

“Even though I’m in a mountain of debt,” said Garrett, “I still consider what I’m doing to be a success.”

Baldwin listened to students share their stories and ideas on what would be most helpful to people struggling with student debt.

Felicia Jones attended the discussion, and spoke of her struggle to be both a part-time student and a mother. Because of her part-time status, Jones is not eligible for many grants and scholarships, and because of her parental status, Jones cannot work full time. She considers raising her son a top priority.

One suggestion pitched to Sen. Baldwin was that there be more opportunities for grants and scholarships to part-time students. Loan forgiveness was also discussed. Currently student loan forgiveness is available to those who work in non-profit fields for a certain amount of time. Students suggested to the senator that the same forgiveness be extended to more professional fields, particularly care and service based occupations.

Financial literacy can keep people out of debt, and Jeff Galligan, an instructor at Madison College, wants students better educated on loans before going into college. Galligan also attended the roundtable with Sen. Baldwin.

“There’s a huge disconnect (between) secondary and postsecondary education.” said Galligan, in regard to high school students financial literacy. “They need to understand what the debt commitment will be like.”

One way to accomplish financial awareness is through continuous exposure. Workshops held every semester help keep students aware and in control of their money.

Sen. Baldwin also mentioned changes that are currently being considered to the Federal Application for Student Aid. Commonly known as FAFSA, the application frustrates millions of students and parents every year with it’s lengthy complexity.

“It could absolutely be simplified dramatically,” Baldwin said.

Colleges across the state have received similar visits from the senator, all with the intent of gathering information. The meeting at Madison College was by no means a pep rally for Baldwin. She didn’t seem like she was at school to win more votes, but was rather an interested individual looking for the best way to serve her constituents.

“It elevated my opinion of her,” said Garrett. “That she was getting feedback from people involved in the issues.”