09.22.15

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Stands Up for Wisconsin Students, Leads Efforts to Address Access to Affordable Higher Education

Baldwin Introduces Bills to Support Working Students and Career & Technical Education

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today introduced two bills to address student debt and college affordability in America. Senator Baldwin led efforts in the Senate to support students who work their way through school and students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

“I have heard firsthand from students and graduates struggling with the cost of higher education in America. Student loan debt is holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth for our country,” said Senator 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.” 

Senator Baldwin recently traveled across Wisconsin, meeting with students and recent graduates who are struggling with the cost of a higher education. In August, Senator Baldwin’s College Affordability Roundtable at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire was joined by higher education administrators, education policy experts, as well as CVTC and UW-Eau Claire students.

Nearly 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans. According to data from the Federal Reserve, student loan debt totals more than $1.2 trillion across the country. 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. Senator 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 U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) and supported by National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), The Institute of College Access and Success (TICAS), DEMOS, United States Student Association (USSA), Wisconsin Technical College System, Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), University of Wisconsin-Madison and One Wisconsin Now. Read what supporters of the Working Student Act are saying here.

“The Working Student Act is a vital piece to ensuring that all students, regardless of circumstance, have a chance to pursue the dream of a college degree,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. I commend Senator Baldwin for once again tackling the issue of college affordability and helping to level the playing field for those students who have to work their way through college.”

"The Working Student Act will provide solid financial relief as well as time relief to students attending college who rely on part-time work to help fund their education,” said UW-Madison Director of Financial Aid Susan Fischer. “This act will help reduce if not eliminate the Catch-22 that our students currently experience when their very modest earnings reduce their financial aid the following year."

"Everyone deserves a fair shot at higher education, and Senator Baldwin understands that. Through the Working Student Act, students can complete their degrees more quickly and with less debt. The result is a stronger economy and stronger communities,” said Racine, Wisconsin Teacher and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) President Betsy Kippers.Wisconsin educators urge elected officials to embrace this common sense approach to the dilemma today’s students face when it comes to the escalating cost of higher education."

"Cuts in financial aid and tuition hikes are endangering access to higher education for prospective students and piling debt on those already in school,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scott Ross. “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,"

In addition, Senator Baldwin’s CTE Opportunity Act extends eligibility for federal student loans to short-term Career and Technical Education (CTE) 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 Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) and supported by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) and Wisconsin Technical College System.

“Our students often have limited financial resources that make the cost of earning a credential a real barrier,” said Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy. “The CTE Opportunity Act will open the doors for more working adults to return to school and improve their skills. That’s positive for them, but it also has the potential to fuel economic growth by delivering talent for employers looking to compete and expand in Wisconsin.”

"As the new school year begins, the CTE Opportunity Act would ensure that the nearly 5 million students enrolled in shorter term postsecondary CTE programs have access to the financial resources they need to complete their education,” said National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) Executive Director Kimberly Green. “NASDCTEc is pleased to endorse this legislation and applauds Senator Baldwin's strong commitment to our nation's students."

“It’s critical that our postsecondary CTE students have access to federal financial aid programs that will support them while they conduct the important work of building their skills,” said Association for Career and Technical Education Executive Director LeAnn Wilson. “This legislation will connect students pursuing short-term programs to the resources they need to obtain education and training for in-demand careers, and we applaud Senator Baldwin’s work to be a champion for these learners.”

Senator Baldwin has been a strong advocate for Career and Technical Education and has visited a number of Wisconsin’s technical colleges. Senator Baldwin has received the Association for Career and Technical Education’s “Policymaker of the Year” award and she is also a co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus. Read a summary of Senator Baldwin’s legislative history of advocating for CTE here.

Senator Baldwin has made it a top priority to take on the national student crisis and promote college affordability. In July, Senator Baldwin introduced the America’s College Promise Act,  which makes two years of community college free and provides an affordable pathway for low-income students to a four-year college degree. The legislation would give students the opportunity to access quality and affordable higher education that gives them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. In March, Senator Baldwin supported action to tackle the national student debt crisis and signed on as an original cosponsor of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow letting struggling borrowers refinance their student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates – the same way people refinance a mortgage, a car loan, or business debt.

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

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