In a recent interview, Senator Ron Johnson discussed his plans for how to deal with rising tuition costs and the 1.4 trillion student loan debt. Johnson, who is up for re-election in November, is running his campaign on the promise of reducing government regulations. He is quick to point out that he is not a career politician but a businessman who stepped up and ran for the U.S. Senate.
Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin has the third highest percentage of college graduates with student loan debt. His opponent, Russ Feingold, supports options that allow borrowers to refinance and consolidate student loans with the federal government, an initiative which Johnson has voted against numerous times.
When pressed on whether or not he supports legislation that allows borrowers to refinance their student loans, Johnson pointed out that there are 38 programs currently offered by the federal government to help borrowers manage their student loan debt. He claims the Department of Education simply does a poor job of informing these borrowers about the different payment options.
“I look at 38 programs, I just don’t think you need another one,” he said. “Why don’t we have the education department make students who have graduated with debt aware of what help there already is?”
Johnson argues that the real problem with rising education costs is federal government intervention. “From my standpoint, you have to take a look at the fact the federal government got involved,” Johnson said. “It got involved the way it always does, it threw money at the problem. And it also created a bunch of mandates and regulations that also drives up the costs.
Johnson believes that many students accrue so much student loan debt because federal loans are so easy to apply for. This results in students borrowing too much money for a college degree that is not in high demand in the current job market, such as liberal arts degrees. Johnson, who majored in accounting and business at the University of Minnesota, states he supports education that is career-oriented. He also feels universities should make professors spend more time teaching.
Johnson is a proponent of for-profit colleges, stating that the marketplace can benefit from more competition. His critics have pointed out that a Senate report from last year showed that for-profit schools on average cost more than state universities and that borrowers attending for-profit schools default on their loans at a higher rate.
Senator Johnson has been sharply criticized by Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, an advocacy group that focuses on advancing progressive leadership and value. Ross stated, “Sen. Ron Johnson is a tour de force of wrong on the student loan debt crisis with his ignorance, indifference and inanity. Student loan borrowers worked hard to get an education and took on the personal responsibility to pay for it, they’ve earned a fair shot at the middle class instead of the shoddy treatment that they’re getting from Ron Johnson.”
Johnson has stated that if he wins the election in November he does not plan to seek a third term.