This is part of an ongoing series by Credible about how the 2016 presidential candidates would affect student loans and the financing of education for students and borrowers.
When Scott Walker, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, formally launches his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, he’ll do so under the watchful eye of major donors who see him as a potential foil to Jeb Bush. Best known for serving two red terms in a blue state, going after public unions and collective bargaining, and pushing a decidedly anti-academia agenda, his very public feud with the University of Wisconsin provides insight into what a Walker presidency could mean for higher education and student loans in America.
Governor Walker fell out of favor with the University of Wisconsin when he took on trade unions and limited collective bargaining rights for public workers, including college professors and graduate students, during his first term. Teamed with a two-year tuition freeze, the move was lauded by Republicans all over the country and seemed to set the stage for Walker’s tenure as Governor and lay the groundwork for his national ambitions. It would not be the last time he angered his state university system to the delight of the country’s Republicans.
In his 2015 budget proposal, Governor Walker moved to cut $300 million in state funding from the University of Wisconsin. He also proposed changes to the university’s mission statement, replacing the emphasis on public service and the search for truth with a pledge to “meet the state’s work-force needs.” While he back-tracked on the changes to the mission statement, calling them a “drafting error,” he doubled down on the budget cuts and suggested that university professors could be “teaching more classes and doing more work.”
This antagonism toward the University of Wisconsin is seen by many pundits as an establishment of a staunchly anti-academic political positioning, a stance that appeals to the voters who worry that their tax dollars fund the intellectual pursuits of a liberal elite. Walker’s education cuts don’t stop with the liberal arts, however. He also cut the Technical College System budget by 30% and reduced funding for financial aid programs like The Wisconsin Grants.
Perhaps most tellingly, Walker chose not to endorse any Wisconsin student loan refinancing bills put forth in 2014. His Democratic opponent in that year’s gubernatorial race, Mary Burke, ran on a platform of higher education reform which included the establishment of an authority on student loan refinancing and a move to make student loan taxes deductible. Walker’s allegiances and priorities aligned more closely with cuts to the education system than relief for the state’s 1 million graduates with student loans.
With his work in Wisconsin as a barometer, a Walker presidency would likely feature cuts in higher education spending without real priority placed on alleviating current student loan debt.
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