Wis. Senator Kohl Stays Active In Student Issues

This story was written by Tom Schalmo, Badger Herald
Herb Kohl's name is everywhere in Wisconsin.

More than 10 years ago, Kohl donated $25 million to help build the Kohl Center sports arena on the University of Wisconsin campus. He helped create Kohl's department stores located throughout the Midwest. The Milwaukee Bucks remain in Brew City thanks in large part to his dedication to keeping the team in the state. And, of course, his name is on a milk stand at the Wisconsin State Fair every year.

Oh, and he is a four-term U.S. senator, too.

From the 72-year-old senator's office in Washington, D.C., Kohl keeps his office staff informed on the latest in Bucks basketball and makes sure every guest leaves with a Bucks ballpoint pen.

But despite his love for sports, Kohl says his No. 1 priority in Congress is education.

"It is a life support system for people who want to do well in life," Kohl said. "Without strong education and continuing education, it can't happen - education has to go far beyond high school."

The senior Democratic senator from Wisconsin said the return of a college education is worth the cost, adding going on beyond high school is a given in today's world.

"When I was [that age], a 12th grade education was what was necessary to get a good job," Kohl said. "Now it's 16th grade, or 18th or 20th."

Kohl said increasing financial aid and grants serves as the "best avenue" Congress can take to improve college affordability and accessibility.

UW College Democrats Chair Oliver Kiefer said Democrats right now are dedicated to improving financial aid for students, adding one of the first moves the new Democratic-controlled Congress made was increasing funding for U.S. Pell grants.

"I think we're seeing the effects of that, and they're doing good things for the most part," Kiefer said. "But there's limitations, given the current president."

Kohl echoed Kiefer's thoughts, emphasizing Democrats' commitment to education.

"We're always trying to provide more money for college aid," Kohl said. "Every time we get a chance to do that and have the votes to do that, we do that."

In terms of affordability, Kohl commended the UW Board of Regents for "trying" to keep tuition down and said the $6,330 annual in-state tuition at UW is "high, but not unreasonable."

"It's something that any person aspiring to the good life should be able to deal with, unless they're extreme in their lifestyle," Kohl said.

However, Kohl did acknowledge Congress must help students coming from lower-income families when it comes time to pay tuition.

In August, Kohl introduced the Student Credit Card Protection Act in hopes of preventing students from entering into a dangerous level of debt following college.

The legislation focuses on students' ability to pay back their credit, requiring their maximum line of credit to be 20 percent of their annual income or $500, whichever is higher. Parents would be forced to co-sign any increase or any credit for a student with no verifiable income.

"We don't want to be punitive with young people just because they're young," Kohl said. "But we don't want you to be put in a position where sometimes unknowingly you wind up with such credit card debt that you're in big, big trouble."

UW College Republicans Vice Chair Mattie Duppler said instead of focusing on such legislation, Congress should be focusing on the basics.

"We have created a culture where kids our age are not being held accountable for their own actions," Duppler said.

She added her parents' generation was often forced to work through college, saying the nation is becoming a "culture of entitlement" with the mentality that everyone who wantsto go to college should, as opposed to rewarding hard work.

With safety issues also a topic of discussion on the UW campus, Kohl and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, helped revive the nation's Community Oriented Policing Services Universal Hiring Program in October.

An amendment by Kohl and Biden provides an additional $110 million to the program, which Kohl said is instrumental in the initial hiring of police officers.

"When you have law enforcement there, the level of violence - or even less, disorderliness - goes way down," Kohl said. "When there's no law enforcement around, people just sort of let down their guard and do things they shouldn't be doing."

With the 2008 presidential election approaching, Kohl said he has not endorsed anyone yet, but said he would "prefer to see a Democrat."

"I like them all," Kohl said. "Really, it's like your children. They're all down there in the senate right now. If I pick one, the others will kill me."

As for the Bucks, Kohl has his fingers crossed.

"We certainly have the capability to be a good team," Kohl said. "Whether or not we'll be able to make it happen - talk is cheap. Talking about it is easy. Making it happen is harder."

Kohl's philosophy regarding the impact of Congress is very similar.

"We can't wave a magic wand and make life beautiful for everyone because that's not the way it works," he said. "But you can do everything in your power to make life a little better for people."
© 2007 Badger Herald via U-WIRE