U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Stands up for Wisconsin Students, Introduces New Legislation to Address Access to Affordable Higher Education

Bills Target Working Students and Career & Technical Education

Washington D.C. - U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced two bills to address the larger issue of student debt and college affordability. The legislation targets students who work their way through school and students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Baldwin recently traveled across Wisconsin, meeting with students and recent graduates who are struggling with the cost of a higher education.

“Student loan debt is holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth for our country,” said Baldwin. “Making college affordable is one of the most important steps we can take toward building a strong path to the middle class for all Americans. I’m proud to introduce legislation to help ensure that more students, in particular those who work while in school, have the opportunity to earn an affordable higher education, attain important in-demand skills, and succeed in the workforce.” 

Nearly 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans. According to new data from the Federal Reserve, student loan debt grew by $31 billion from January to March of this year, now totaling $1.2 trillion across the country, making student loan debt the fastest growing household debt category. The rising debt load makes it more difficult for young professionals to purchase homes, automobiles, and other goods, creating a huge drag on the overall economy.

Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. Baldwin’s Working Student Act will allow students that must work while in college to complete their degrees more quickly and with less debt. The new legislation increases the amount working students can earn without that income counting against them in accessing need-based federal financial aid, including Pell Grants. This legislation is cosponsored by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and supported by National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), The Institute of College Access and Success (TICAS), DEMOS, the Wisconsin Technical College System, Wisconsin Education Association Council, University of Wisconsin-Madison and One Wisconsin Now.

"Students - sacked with spiraling college costs and crippling student debt - should be able to work their way through college without penalty. But, as it stands now, the small income they earn unjustly decreases access to need-based student aid,” said Randi Weingarten, President American Federation of Teachers. “Senator Baldwin's bill addresses this absurdity. All working students deserve equitable access to federal aid."

“Working students are doing double duty when they hit the books and punch the clock. The Working Student Act will ensure that hard-working students are not penalized for being diligent in earning the money they need to further their educations and careers,” said David J. Socolow, director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic  Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).  “This Act will allow low-income working students to keep more of their wages to support their families and still be eligible for the financial aid they need to meet the growing costs of college.”

"Cuts in financial aid and tuition hikes are endangering access to higher education for prospective students and piling debt on those already in school. Senator Baldwin's Working Student Act is a simple reform that will stop punishing hardworking students for being hard-working. It's a welcome bit of good news in the fight to put the brakes on a student loan debt crisis spiraling out of control," said Scott Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now. 

In addition, Baldwin’s CTE Opportunity Act extends eligibility for federal student loans to short-term Career and Technical Education programs which do not meet the current program length requirements under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This extended eligibility for federal aid provides increased access to courses that provide students with the industry-recognized credentials that employers are looking for. This legislation is cosponsored by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and supported by the Association for Career and Technical Education and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

“The CTE Opportunity Act will help students access federal loans to complete certificate and other short-term programs, making it more feasible for working adults and other non-traditional students to return to school and improve their skills, said Morna K. Foy, President Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). “The limited financial resources of WTCS students means that the costs of earning credentials can be a major barrier.  Therefore, any federal effort to expand financial aid availability (both grants and loans) for WTCS students will help improve Wisconsin’s economy.” 

“The CTE Opportunity Act showcases the commitment that ACTE’s partners in the Senate CTE Caucus have to America’s CTE students, and we appreciate their efforts on this important initiative,” said LeAnn Wilson, Executive Director Association for Career and Technical Education. “By giving postsecondary CTE students pursuing shorter-term programs equal access to crucial federal aid programs, this bill will ensure more students have the resources they need to obtain education and training for in-demand careers.”

Baldwin has been a strong advocate for Career and Technical Education and has visited a number of Wisconsin’s technical colleges. Baldwin recently received the Association for Career and Technical Education’s “Policymaker of the Year” award for her work on behalf of CTE and her continued support of career and technical education. She is also a co-chair of the Career and Technical Education Caucus and has urged President Obama to establish a Presidential Career and Technical Scholars Award program. Earlier this year, Baldwin introduced legislation to provide for competitive grant funding for clean energy career and technical training programs so that students are better trained for post-secondary education and better equipped for the high-skilled jobs of the future.

More information on the Working Student Act can be found here.

More information on the CTE Opportunity Act can be found here.