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Hillman says when it comes to student debt, worry about 'small borrowers'

September 29, 2016

The UW-Madison's Nicholas Hillman was quoted in an Appleton Post-Crescent article discussing the financial challenges many Wisconsin technical college students face.

Nicholas HillmanThe article notes that student debt is rising, and “students attending Wisconsin’s technical colleges are defaulting on federal loans at some of the highest rates in the state.”

Hillman said he especially worries about ​"small borrowers" when it comes to student debt.  

"Research shows a lot of community college students who don't repay loans only enrolled in about a semester of courses," ​he explain​ed. "Dropping out with no degree and debt is a problem. The typology of the student borrowing a whole lot ​-- say to go to medical school ​-- is not as big of a policy problem as the students who are borrowing because they have no other options."

HIllman also said "it isn't enough to provide budget counseling and hope for the best, or to pin the blame on a student's socio-economic background, age, or whether they are the first in their family to attend college."

"That lays it on the student, and that worries me," he said.

Hillman suggested as alternatives that “lawmakers could consider making the first semester of community college free, to make sure students who can least afford debt will stick with higher education.” In addition, ​legislators could “front-load Pell grants, which would allow students who qualify to either not take additional loans or borrow small amounts.”

Finally, he called for Great Lakes Higher Education Corp."to reach out to students more effectively to provide information about loans and help them with payments."

"We need to make sure they're doing enough," he said.

Hillman is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and a Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) faculty affiliate.

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