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Student leaders lobby Congress about college affordability

| Jake Wrasse

Editor's note: The following piece was submitted to the local news media by Jake Wrasse, UW-Eau Claire student body president.

As Washington, D.C. was preparing for President Obama’s final State of the Union, UW-Eau Claire Student Body President Jake Wrasse and Vice President Jordan Mabin were on Capitol Hill highlighting the importance of college affordability, federal financial aid and campus safety.
Over the course of three days, 20 student body presidents, vice presidents, executive staff and senators affiliated with the UW System Student Representatives held more than 25 meetings with legislators and think tanks on both sides of the aisle. These meetings ranged from elected officials in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, including Wisconsin’s entire Congressional delegation and members from the House and Senate education committees.
Wrasse believes that talking about how college could remain an affordable, sustainable investment for students was at the center of all the group’s discussions.
“There’s more importance now than ever before riding on a student completing their bachelor’s degree,” Wrasse said. “Not only is it crucial for success in the work force, but the cost of attaining the degree is always on the rise. Tens of thousands of dollars are needed to travel from freshman move-in to the stage at commencement and, for students that can’t pay that out-of-pocket, federal financial aid and options for how to repay those loans are vital.”
Vice President Mabin found in many meetings that education on and access to existing loan and debt repayment programs can be as important as the financial aid itself.
“If students don’t know about options like the pay-as-you-earn debt payment program or are unable to navigate the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), they’ll end up struggling to make payments after graduation or run out of funds in the middle of their college career,” Mabin said. “Increasing the simplicity and awareness of these options could be a huge help to students.”
Wrasse and Mabin also raised concerns about limits being placed on how many hours per week students can work in university jobs, which stems from a new UW System policy implemented to comply with the Affordable Care Act, and the State of Wisconsin’s disinvestment in higher education. Wrasse noted that both these developments are having a major impact on the cost of attending a university.
“The state has gone from paying nearly 60 percent of every UW students’ cost of attendance in the 1970s to just around 20 percent now, and tuition has similarly gone up to offset that loss of funding, ” Wrasse said. “If students are now unable to get enough hours on campus to pay for this bigger tuition burden, many will have to take on full-time off-campus jobs to manage their tuition and living expenses. That’s why a tuition freeze only deals with a symptom of the tuition problem, not the problem itself—state disinvestment – putting students in financial jeopardy regardless.”
Also attending the trip were the chair and vice-chair of UW System Student Representatives, UW System Traditional Student Regent James Langnes III and student body presidents from UW-Milwaukee, UW-Marathon/Wood County, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Superior, UW-Whitewater, UW-Rock County, UW-Barron County, UW-La Crosse and UW-River Falls.
“These issues will remain important to students, and their voices need to be heard as Congress looks at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act,” Mabin said. “I hope the UW System Student Representatives will continue to be engaged at that level.”
Additional Links/info:

Rep. Kind quoted Wrasse in the College Affordability Action Plan the congressman released Feb. 3. The action plan can be found on Rep. Kind's website link below.

UW student leaders meet with Senator Baldwin on college affordability before State of the Union
Photo cutline: Members of the UW System student Representatives met with legislators and think tanks in Washington, D.C. Dec. 11-13, including Wisconsin’s Third Distrcit Representative Ron Kind. Pictured (left to right): Jacob Schimmel (UW-L), Roderick Babilius (UW-RF), Congressman Kind, Chris Morgan (UW-RF), Kaylee Otterbacher (UW-L), James VandenBergh (UW-RF), Jake Wrasse, (UW-EC), Brady Murphy (UW-RF).