Student Senate discusses Assembly Bill 744

An Assembly bill that would require higher education institutions in Wisconsin to provide individualized financial reports to each student was discussed at the Feb. 15 meeting of the Student Senate.

Student Senate Director of Legislative Affairs and senior political science major Caleb Goodness explained the 2015 Assembly Bill 744 to Student Senate. He said that institutions would be required to provide information at the beginning of the academic year to students about loans and the debt that they would have to pay after college. The statements would include the cost of tuition, student fees, housing and textbooks for four years at the institution. The report would also contain the total amount in state and federal grants that the student receives.

Goodness said the bill was brought to his attention after he attended the February meeting of the University of Wisconsin-System Representatives, at UW-Stout. These meetings occur monthly and in different locations.

Goodness said he thought the bill was important to bring to Student Senate because it was co-authored by State Rep. Travis Tranel (R-49) and co-sponsored by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-17) who represent the area where the university is located.

Student Senate President and senior media studies major Sydney Bend said passage of the bill would keep students better informed. She said the reports would remind students about how much money they are taking out in loans, so they are more aware of what they will owe after graduation.

Liberal Arts and Education Senate Representative Christian Hall said that as of right now, most students go through loan counseling prior to attending university and this is where students obtain information about debt and payment options.

The Student Senate Legislative Affairs Committee will draft a resolution regarding the bill on Feb. 18, Goodness said. The resolution will be introduced to Student Senate on Feb. 22 and the Senate will then vote on the resolution on Feb. 29.

Bend said in a later interview that the Senate expects to support AB 744, but if Senate members hear a lack of support from the student body, they would redraft the resolution.

Goodness said the goal of the resolutions, and of passing them on to the elected officials, is to demonstrate the opinion of young voters. Introducing legislature to campus and drafting resolutions is part of Goodness’ job responsibilities as director of legislative affairs. He said he expects to draft a resolution every week.

“[This is a chance] to show legislators that we are watching what they are doing,” Goodness said. He said, if enacted, AB 744 would be an unfunded mandate.

“The state is saying you [would] have to do this, but we’re not giving you additional money,” Goodness said. UW-Platteville would be responsible for any costs associated with providing students the financial reports. According to the text of the bill, “whenever possible the [financial] letter shall be transmitted to the student electronically, but the institution of higher education shall provide a printed copy of the letter delivered by hand, mail, facsimile transmission, commercial delivery, or other suitable means if the student does not have the ability to receive the letter electronically.”

Despite the fact that the letter would, in most cases, be delivered electronically, it remains unclear what costs would be associated with complying with AB 744.

Fiscal estimates available on differed on potential costs. A fiscal estimate prepared by the Higher Educational Aids Board estimated no state fiscal effect and no local government costs. An estimate prepared by the UW-System estimated an indeterminate state fiscal effect, no local government costs, and stated “it is unknown how much system design and programming will be required to merge the student-specific data required by the bill into a single document that can be transmitted electronically” and that additional evaluation would be needed to create an estimate. Finally, an estimate prepared by the Wisconsin Technical College System estimated no state fiscal effect, but indeterminate local government costs, and noted that WTCS colleges already provide financial information to students.

With additional reporting by Hannah Helwig. 

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