The federal Perkins (student) loan program was created in the Eisenhower years to maintain American educational leadership. Perkins Loans were scheduled to end Wednesday. Students who have received loans for the 2015-16 academic year will continue to receive funds until they graduate. However, if the program is not renewed, no new loans will be made. Because current recipients are safe and because future students may not understand the impact of the sunset of the Perkins Loans until it is too late, the outcry has been muted.
According to most recently available figures, 28,282 student are receiving Perkins Loans in Wisconsin, attending both public and private, nonprofit universities. These are real flesh and blood students. They and their families work hard. They are not getting a free ride from their Perkins Loan. These young -- and not so young -- students are our states future leaders.
Perkins Loans are designed to help low-income students achieve their goals for higher education and for careers. Perkins loans do not go to institutions, but to students. However, they are administered by their college or university. Such programs are called campus-based, and the terminology itself has caused confusion.
Colleges and universities match the federal contribution; they have skin in the game. When students repay their loans, the funding is, in turn, loaned to other students with need. The federal dollars are not sitting in vaults somewhere on university campuses.
Some critics have pointed out that students on all campuses across the country are not eligible for Perkins Loans. This is a problem. I believe that low-income students should be empowered to enroll and succeed at whatever college or university is best suited for their success. Students have different talents, skills and abilities -- as well as different aspirations. The federal government should not be treating them like numbers, pigeonholing them or restricting their opportunities.
The solution is not to take these funds away from thousands of students currently benefiting, but to expand the program so all students, regardless of institution, have the opportunity to pursue and achieve their dreams.
Rolf Wegenke is president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities representing the 24 private, nonprofit institutions of higher learning in this state and their nearly 60,000 students.