Wisconsin Hires a Student Loan Debt Specialist with an IT Background

The specialist would connect borrowers with debt management resources.

by Karen Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / March 29, 2016

(TNS) — Gov. Scott Walker on Monday announced the appointment of someone with an IT and communications background to the newly created position of student loan debt specialist as part of an effort to help students and parents make informed decisions about paying for college.

Cheryl Weiss, who holds bachelor's degrees in marketing and humanistic studies from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, will take on the new public outreach role within the state Department of Financial Institutions, where she has been employed since 2001.

Weiss served as a communications specialist in the department from 2001 to 2003, and was the public information officer from 2003 to 2005 before moving to IT, according to Tom Evenson, the department's communications director.

"She has excellent communication skills," Evenson said.

Weiss' salary of $62,524 will be boosted to $67,891 in the new position.

The Department of Financial Institutions reallocated an existing full-time position to create the new position. Expenses will be absorbed within the budget of the department's Office of Financial Literacy, according to the governor's office.

A higher-than-average percentage of students at public and nonprofit universities in Wisconsin graduate with loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

The Class of 2014 in Wisconsin carried an average loan debt of $28,810 — 17th highest in the nation. But the percentage of graduates with debt — 70% — ranked Wisconsin in the No. 3 spot nationally.

The governor's announcement of the new student loan debt specialist drew immediate criticism from One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group that has taken on an advocacy role around student loan debt.

"One million Wisconsin student loan borrowers want action and Gov. Scott Walker's 'solution' is reassigning a bureaucrat to answer the phone," said Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now.

"This sounds like the worst job in state government: Answer the phone to tell 1 million student loan borrowers why Scott Walker opposes allowing them to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage," Ross said.

Ross was referring to the unsuccessful efforts of Democratic lawmakers to move legislation through the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have allowed student loan borrowers to refinance loans at a lower rate.

Walker and other Republicans said they're already holding down college costs and debt through their freeze on in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin System schools.

Weiss' new job will be "to inform current and future student loan borrowers about potential debt management, investment, and educational options," according to the governor's office.

The job description says she will help distressed student loan borrowers and current students "with resources and access to financial education and financial counseling/coaching."

Weiss will not be a financial adviser, but will connect people to resources and information, Evenson said.

Weiss also is expected to develop and implement a college financing outreach program for schools.

That effort will include creating a website with resources and information for current and future borrowers that has tools such as loan calculators, college cost estimation and scholarship resources — tools that already exist on the Web but not in one easy-to-find place.

©2016 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. 

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