One Wisconsin Now Blog

"I'm a US Army veteran. And I'm a student loan debtor."

by Saul Newton, One Wisconsin Now Guest Contributor

My name is Saul Newton. I'm a student at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, pursuing a degree in communications. I'm a US Army veteran, deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan from 2010-2011. And I'm a student loan debtor.

As Veterans Day approaches, we take a moment to honor those who have served in our nation's armed forces. For me it's a time to reflect on those who wore the uniform before I did, including my father and grandfather, and my brothers and sisters who still wear the uniform and sacrifice so much. It's also a time for me to reflect on my story and what brought me to serve my country.

When I started my college career seven years ago I dreamed of earning an education. I dreamed of earning a bachelor's degree, staying in Wisconsin to work and raise a family, and securing a middle class job. My parents couldn't go to college, but they instilled the value of education in me from a young age. Because of their encouragement I dedicated myself to earning a college education.

In 2007, I enrolled at University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. My working class family could not afford tuition, even at a state university. I had to rely on financial aid and student loans to pay for my education. Year after year I watched as the cost of college rose. From 2007 to 2009 my yearly tuition rose $1,600. I worked several jobs to make ends meet, but I was drowning.

My only option to afford a college education was to enlist in the military, to serve my country and receive the benefits of the GI Bill. Two years into my college career, with thousands of dollars in student loans already racked up, I joined the US Army. Less than a year later I was deployed to Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

While I was deployed, going on daily patrols and fighting for my country, I was making payments on my student loans, loans that I have still not paid off.

Today I can pursue a bachelor's degree because of the GI Bill. I am thankful for the opportunity and my experience, but students should not have to go to war in order to afford a college education. And like 753,000 other Wisconsinites, I will graduate with student loan debt that will burden me for years.

The Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill is a lifeline for students like me all over Wisconsin. Under this legislation I could refinance my loans to qualify for lower interest rates on my loans. I could deduct my student loan payments from my state taxes. Students would have more information to make borrowing decisions. This bill protects students, so we can be productive workers and entrepreneurs.

The simple fact of the matter is that a college education is the path to economic security. Students like me are working hard to provide for our future and improve our communities. We aren't asking for a handout, but we are asking for a fair shot. That is what the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill provides.