States Step In:
Relieving the Burden of Student Loan Debt

August 2, 2022

AUTHOR
Brian Backstrom

As student loan debt mounts—nearly $1.8 trillion in total outstanding debt nationwide by the latest estimate—calls for sweeping loan forgiveness also grow.

On June 2, 2022, President Joe Biden’s administration announced that it would discharge $5.8 billion in outstanding student loan debt for more than 560,000 students who attended and, it was determined by the US Department of Education, were defrauded by the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain. This largest-ever single debt-elimination effort adds to the $18 billion or so in loan forgiveness already given through targeted relief to 725,000 borrowers since the beginning of the Biden administration. Now, indications are that additional sweeping measures of loan forgiveness are likely to occur before the current pause on required monthly student loan repayments expires on August 31, 2022. Meanwhile, creative ideas on how to relieve the burden of student loan debt are being raised by all sorts of public policy, student, and advocacy voices. (See the Rockefeller Institute’s latest article on student debt burden relief here.)

Often overlooked during these discussions, however, are programs that are and have been in place that are already providing substantial student loan debt relief. There are federal programs, federal-state partnership programs, and state-based student debt relief programs of all kinds. While the Biden Administration’s moves to discharge $24 billion in student loan debt was targeted to borrowers of various characteristics (such as permanently disabled individuals) or those who attended unworthy institutions, most of the existing federal and state programs target debt relief to individuals entering specific professions.

A November 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service notes that federal student loan relief programs have grown from one program in 1958, when federal student loans were first offered, to more than 50 programs 60 years later. The report found conflicting research on the effectiveness of federal student debt relief programs to incentivize graduates to enter the particular targeted fields, however: the National Institutes for Health found that individuals participating in its sponsored research program and receiving student loan debt relief tended to continue careers in medical research, for example, while another cited study1 found that healthcare providers practicing in rural areas would have done so even without receiving a loan repayment award. The report also noted that research has found employment decisions for individuals are complex, and outstanding levels of student loan debt alone is not certain as an impediment for individuals to enter or stay in a particular area of employment. Thus, many questions about program design were raised for Congress to consider when evaluating these programs.

Still, the number of student loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs at the federal and state levels is tremendous, and the amount of student loan payment assistance offered often is quite significant. A brief look at these programs—and more detail about what is available in New York State— is offered below. Regardless of what future steps toward student debt relief may be taken by the Biden Administration or future administrations, college students, graduates, parents, financial aid counselors, and others would be well served to investigate existing debt relief programs and seek out help navigating the eligibility and application maze that often accompanies many of them if needed. Policymakers, too, could study these programs to examine how outreach and design issues may be impacting the uptake and effectiveness of these benefits.

Federal Student Loan Debt Relief Programs

The major federal student loan debt relief programs include the following:

Debt Relief for Public Service

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which began in 2007, cancels the remaining balance of student loan borrowers’ outstanding debt: a) if they are enrolled in an income-based repayment program; b) after 120 consecutive monthly payments; c) if they have federal direct student loans; and, d) as long as they remain working full time for a qualifying employer, such as a governmental organization (including federal, state, and local agencies, offices, or districts, and the US military) or a nonprofit organization, throughout the repayment period.

This program became known for its confusing eligibility rules and its overly burdensome application and qualification process however, and borrowers seeking relief were frustrated by what seemed to be unjust denials of forgiveness. In October 2021, the US Department of Education overhauled the administrative processes for the program and granted limited waivers of eligibility for hundreds of thousands of student borrowers. The Department estimated that these reforms immediately discharged the remaining debt for 22,000 student borrowers, providing more than $1.7 billion in relief and promised as much as $2.8 billion in loan forgiveness for an additional 27,000 borrowers as soon as they properly certified additional periods of employment. More than 550,000 borrowers saw their credit towards loan forgiveness grow, having nearly two years of payments previously not counted now credited toward fulfillment of their required 120 months of payments.2 Prior to these actions by the Biden Administration, only around 16,000 borrowers had received debt relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

A June 2022 analysis by the advocacy organization Student Borrower Protection Center estimated that more than nine million public service workers were “eligible to pursue debt cancellation through the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program,” yet less than 15 percent had “filed paperwork to track their progress toward debt cancellation under PSLF” and cancellation had occurred for “less than 2 percent of the eligible population.” Further research on the causes for this low level of participation—including a lack of awareness or outreach, a challenging application process, transience in jobs, and other factors—could inform additional program design improvements.

Debt Relief for Medical Service Providers

The US Health Resources and Services Administration’s3 National Health Service Corps (NHSC) debt relief programs target healthcare professionals, offering loan repayment assistance as an incentive to encourage doctors, dentists, nurses, and others, to practice in geographic areas experiencing a shortage of all or certain types of healthcare providers. According to an October 2021 survey of graduating medical students, the American Association of Medical Colleges calculates that 73 percent of all medical students graduate with student debt,4 with the median total burden of indebted students at $195,000 for those graduating from public medical schools and $220,000 for those from private schools.

Not only physicians, but nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, health service psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists, marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors all are eligible for the following federal student debt relief programs for medical service providers:

Loan repayment assistance of up to $25,000, matched by an additional $25,000 in state or other nonfederal funds, is offered in exchange for a two-year service commitment at NHSC-approved sites experiencing a shortage of healthcare providers. Dentists and dental hygienists also are eligible for this program.

As part of the government’s response to the growing national opioid addiction crisis, Congress approved an expansion of NHSC’s loan repayment program beginning in 2018 to include providers of professional opioid and substance-use disorder treatments. Adding substance-use disorder counselors, pharmacists, and registered nurses as providers eligible for loan repayment assistance, qualifying applicants can receive up to $75,000 ($25,000 per year) in loan repayment assistance for a three-year service commitment at underserved sites. Alternatively, the Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program provides qualified participants up to $250,000 total for a six-year service commitment in NHSC-approved substance-use disorder sites in geographic areas experiencing high rates of drug overdose.

As an even greater incentive to attract providers of opioid and substance-use disorder treatments to rural areas of the country, loan repayment assistance was increased to a maximum of $100,000 for a three-year service commitment by practitioners to work in rural NHSC-approved substance-use disorder sites. Substance-use disorder counselors, pharmacists, and registered nurses again were added as eligible disciplines to the common group of eligible providers, along with certified registered nurse anesthetists.

These three programs overlap in eligibility (they even have a common application), but applicants must select only one program from which they wish to get benefits.

The NHSC runs another debt relief program, the Students to Service (S2S) Loan Repayment Program, which awards loan repayment assistance to students who, while in their last year of medical, nursing, or dental school, agree to make a three-year service commitment to provide primary healthcare services in a high-priority federally-designated health professional shortage area. Loan repayment assistance of a maximum of $30,000 for each year of service is made, and an optional additional year of continuation is available that brings the maximum debt assistance under this program to $120,000.

In 2020, more than 13,100 student loan borrowers were working as healthcare professionals serving in shortage areas across all 50 states and receiving debt relief through these four programs.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) also runs some student debt relief programs directly, including:

To incentivize individuals who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to become faculty at health professions schools, HRSA offers student loan repayment assistance to qualifying individuals of up to $40,000 over two years. The award is renewable, offering up to an additional $40,000 of relief for an additional two years of service as a faculty instructor at an approved school.

For registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses working at least 32 hours per week at an eligible public or private nonprofit provider federally designated as a “critical shortage facility” (designated places within a HPSA), and for faculty employed by an eligible public or private nonprofit school of nursing, up to 60 percent of total outstanding qualifying educational loan balance incurred while pursuing a nursing education for a two-year service commitment. Qualifying participants may receive an additional 25 percent of their original loan balance for an optional third year of service.

Across all its loan repayment assistance programs, in federal fiscal year 2021 the HRSA provided nearly $887 million in student loan debt relief nationwide; loan repayment assistance grants alone in New York State totaled nearly $63 million to more than 1,050 awardees.

Finally, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service program also offers student debt relief to medical professionals through its Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program. Eligible medical practitioners can receive loan repayment assistance grants up to $40,000 in exchange for a two-year service commitment to practice in health facilities serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Individuals may renew their service commitment annually and receive up to $20,000 each year in loan repayment assistance until all outstanding qualified student debt is paid.

Debt Relief for Other Target Professions

The US Department of Justice runs two loan repayment assistance programs for attorneys serving the public sector:

  • The Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program, which provides up to $6,000 per year in matching loan repayments in exchange for three years of service as an attorney at the Department of Justice. Recipients must have a total outstanding loan balance of at least $10,000, and if annual earnings are less than $92,500, the maximum grant is awarded without the requirement for matching loan payments.
  • The John R. Justice (JRJ) Program, provides states a share of a $10 million federal appropriation based on population (minimum $100,000) to fund a state-designed loan repayment assistance program for public defenders, prosecutors, and eligible employees of nonprofit organizations under contract with the state or local government to provide legal representation to indigent persons. States must apply to the Department of Justice annually for a grant, and set their own level of awards (not to exceed $10,000 per year) and other program requirements within the federal eligibility and service-requirement parameters.

The US Department of Education offers two student loan forgiveness programs specifically for teachers:

  • The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program offers eligible highly qualified special education and secondary math or science teachers up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness, and all other teachers up to $5,000, after five consecutive school years teaching at a designated low-income public school.
  • The Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers program for those who teach in low-income public schools provides up to 100 percent of outstanding debt forgiveness for teachers with debt from federal Perkins Loans (available to students with exceptional financial need): 15 percent of principal and interest is cancelled for the first year of service, another 15 percent for the second year, 20 percent for the third and fourth years, and the remaining 30 percent for the fifth year of service. Some teachers may qualify for cancellation of their Perkins Loans even if they don’t work in a low-income school. Eligible teachers of mathematics, science, foreign languages, bilingual education, special education, or a different subject determined by one’s state education agency as having a shortage of qualified teachers can qualify to receive debt relief under this program.

The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture offers student loan repayment assistance for veterinarians willing to serve in shortage areas:

The National Institutes of Health offers student loan repayment assistance as an incentive to recruit and retain qualified individuals into biomedical and biobehavioral research careers.

  • The NIH Loan Repayment Programs aims to attract health professionals to careers in clinical, pediatric, health disparity, or contraceptive and infertility research, and offers up to $50,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance.

Most federal loan forgiveness and loan repayment programs prohibit participants from “double-counting,” or receiving benefits from multiple programs for the same service. For example, teachers cannot take advantage of both the Perkins Loan Cancellation program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. In some programs, however, program eligibility may be granted once participation in other forgiveness programs has concluded if the participant still has outstanding student debt remaining.

Federal-State Partnership Student Loan Relief Programs

The Health Resources and Services Administration also administers a significant ongoing federal-state partnership student debt relief program: the State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP).5 SLRP is a federal matching-funds student loan repayment assistance program created in 2009 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known commonly as “Obamacare”),6 and is designed as an incentive to lure primary medical, mental health, and dental healthcare clinicians to practice in underserved areas. States opting to participate in the SLRP receive from the federal government 50 percent of the cost of any student loan repayment assistance grants awarded.

Some federal requirements for participation in the SLRP apply: award recipients must be US citizens, must not have defaulted on any federal financial obligation, and must be working in or accepted a position to work in a federally-designated health professional shortage area; sites must accept Medicaid and make accommodations for limited-income patients; only debt incurred from schooling directly related to medical certification is eligible for repayment assistance; etc.—and awards must be matched dollar-for-dollar with nonfederal funds. But states have great flexibility to design the parameters of their own student loan repayment programs. Specifically, states may determine:

  • Size of annual loan relief award. Maximum awards cannot exceed either the amount of the outstanding student loan or $50,000 for a two-year full-time service commitment,7 but states can vary the amount of debt relief offered, including offering different amounts to different types of healthcare providers. States have embraced this flexibility, with many offering larger awards to primary care doctors and dentists, with lower amounts for nurses and social workers, for example.
  • Healthcare disciplines eligible for student debt relief. States have flexibility in determining which areas of medical practice are eligible for student debt relief. The federal HRSA’s main objective under the SLRP is to stimulate the provision of primary care services of all needed types in underserved areas, but states may determine the specific disciplines that particularly need to be incentivized. For example, Georgia limits the disciplines eligible for loan repayment assistance to family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, OB/GYN, and psychiatry, while West Virginia makes eligible primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, and nurse midwives.
  • Length of service commitment. Participation in the federal program requires a minimum service commitment of two years (full time of 40 hours per week minimum; or part-time of 20 hours per week, which is then eligible only for proportionate awards), and states may offer additional repayment assistance for an extension of service commitment. Colorado and Wisconsin, for example, require a three-year service commitment. Many states also offer participants the option to renew their service commitment beyond the required two years for additional loan repayment assistance awards.
  • Practice sites where program participants may serve. While debt-relief award recipients must practice in a federally-designated health professional shortage area, states may require the service to be performed in specific areas within those regions. North Carolina, for example, requires service in rural underserved areas.
  • Type of matching funds required. While the SLRP requires a non-federal dollar-for-dollar match,8 states may choose to fund this match themselves through state resources, require local communities to fund the match, require the provider’s organization to match the award, or any combination thereof. Kentucky is among the states that requires the match to be provided by local sources (which may include municipalities, local philanthropic and corporate foundations, or other sources), and Illinois meets its match obligation with half coming from state funds and the other half coming from site employers.

Also, individuals typically cannot be enrolled in any other federal student loan relief program at the time of participating in an SLRP.

The Federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s 50%-Matched
State Loan Repayment Programs (SLRP)
State SLRP Parameters
Alabama $35,000/year, $70,000 maximum award in exchange for a two-year service requirement. Practice site facilities must provide the required 50 percent matching funds.
Alaska $25,000/year, $50,000 maximum award with a two-year service requirement. Practice site facilities (or other outside funding) must provide the required 50 percent matching funds.
Arizona For an initial two-year service requirement: for physicians and dentists up to $52,000 to up to $65,000, depending on shortage severity; and for advanced practice providers from $40,000 to $50,000. Renewable for a third, fourth, and fifth-plus year of service at a lower annual assistance rate.
California $50,000 maximum award with a two-year service requirement. Additional awards of $20,000/year available for a service commitment extended to years three and four; and $10,000/year available for an extension to a fourth and fifth year. Half-time practitioners required to serve twice the period length. State pays the required federal match.
Colorado Maximum loan repayment assistance award of $105,000 for physicians and similar fields; up to $60,000 for physician assistants and similar fields in exchange for a three-year service commitment. State funds required 50 percent match.
Delaware $100,000 maximum award ($50,000/year) with a two-year service requirement. Awards vary ($30,000-$100,000) based on qualifications of provider. Continuation awards are available for a third and fourth year of service. State funds the required 50 percent match.
District of Columbia Up to $151,800 in loan repayment assistance over four years available to physicians and dentists (maximum $83,500 for all others). Required two-year service commitment; renewable for two additional years. District of Columbia provides the required 50 percent match.
Georgia $25,000/year maximum toward medical school student loan debt in exchange for a two-year commitment to practice in a rural county that is also a federally-designated shortage area. Renewable for up to a total of four years, for maximum loan assistance of $100,000. Limited to family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, OB/GYN, and psychiatry.
Hawaii $50,000 maximum award with a two-year service requirement. Practice site facilities (or other outside funding) must provide the required 50 percent matching funds.
Idaho Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Illinois $25,000/year, $50,000 maximum award with a two-year service requirement. The required 50 percent matching funds is provided half by the state and half by the employment site.
Indiana Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Iowa Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, for primary care physicians in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Other disciplines are eligible for up to $40,000 or up to $30,000. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Kansas Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Kentucky Loan repayment assistance awards for a two-year work commitment range from $20,000 for RNs, etc. to $80,000 for physicians and dentists, etc. Required match provided by sponsoring organizations, such as the employer or a local foundation.
Louisiana Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Maine $50,000 maximum award with a two-year service requirement. Practice site facilities must provide the required 50 percent matching funds.
Maryland Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Massachusetts Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Michigan Loan repayment assistance of 20 percent of outstanding student loan debt, maximum of $60,000, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. May be renewed up to four times, for a total of 10 years of service and maximum $300,000 in debt relief. The required 50 percent match is met by a combination of state and employer grants (in 2019, state funded approximately $1 million and employer grants totaled $600 million, used to match the federal investment of $1.4 million).
Minnesota Up to $20,000 per year, $40,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Missouri Up to $50,000 of loan repayment assistance only for primary care doctors and dentists in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Montana Up to $15,000 per year, $30,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State or local site pays the required 50 percent match.
Nebraska Up to $200,000 for doctors and dentists and up to $100,000 for other professions available as loan repayment assistance for a two-year service commitment renewable for up to four years of service. Local sites provide the required match.
Nevada Up to $50,000 of loan repayment assistance for medical professionals in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Up to $20,000 available for an additional year of service and up to $10,000 for each additional year of service after that. State pays the required 50 percent match.
New Hampshire Up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance for doctors, $45,000 for others for a three-year service commitment. Optional two-year extension of service commitment for up to an additional $40,000/$10,000. State is piloting an expansion of SLRP to dentists, with up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance granted for a three-year commitment.
New Jersey Up to $52,800 in student loan redemption for two years of service, with up to $21,600 in assistance in year one and up to $31,200 in year two. Participants may renew service agreements for an additional two years, receiving an additional $33,600 annually in loan repayment assistance, for a maximum total available of $120,000. The state pays the required federal match.
North Carolina Mental health providers in rural and underserved shortage areas eligible for up to $50,000 in exchange for a two-year work commitment. State provides the required match.
North Dakota Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
New Mexico Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
New York Doctors Across New York program requires a three-year commitment to practice in underserved communities to be eligible for up to $40,000/year in loan repayment assistance, for a maximum award of $120,000.
Ohio Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Optional third and fourth year of service available for up to $35,000/year in additional assistance. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Oregon Up to $35,000 per year in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Two one-year continuation service commitments available for additional $35,000/year debt repayment assistance, with total assistance capped at $100,000. Local site pays the required 50 percent match plus a 10 percent administration fee.
Pennsylvania Physicians, dentists, and psychologists up to $80,000, other practitioners up to $48,000 for a two-year service commitment. State provides the required match.
Rhode Island Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.
South Dakota Up to $35,000 for physicians and up to $19,000 for non-physicians in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Option to contract for an additional two years for physicians increases the maximum assistance available to $100,000. Option to contract for an additional year for non-physicians increases the maximum assistance to $35,000. Employing site pays the required 50 percent match.
Tennessee Up to $25,000 per year, $50,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. Optional annual service commitments available for up to $20,000/year in additional assistance. State pays the required 50 percent match.
Vermont Up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance for a two-year service commitment in a shortage area. Required match is provided by both state and local funds.
Virginia Up to $50,000 per year, $100,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment, with the community/practice site paying the required 50 percent match. $40,000/year additional available for a one- or two-year extension of the service commitment, again with the local site paying the required match.
Washington Up to $35,000 per year, $70,000 maximum award, in exchange for a two-year service commitment. State pays the required match.
West Virginia Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, and nurse midwives eligible for $40,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment in underserved areas. An additional $25,000/year in assistance is available for an additional one- or two-year service commitment.
Wisconsin Up to $50,000 for physicians and dentists and up to $25,000 for all others in exchange for a three-year service commitment. State pays the required 50 percent match.

State Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

States do not have the authority to cancel or forgive federal or private student loans directly, however most states now offer programs that provide some form of debt relief to qualifying student loan borrowers. Typically, these programs provide reimbursement for loan repayments being made by student borrowers or make payments directly to loan servicers on the borrowers’ behalf. And, similar to the SLRP, some state programs note that participants cannot be enrolled in another student loan relief program at the same time.

New York State Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

New York State offers a number of student loan forgiveness programs. Among the most creative—and the most targeted to providing immediate relief to new college graduates from the burden of student debt—is the Get On Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program, established in the 2015-16 state budget. For students who graduate from colleges located in and then work in New York, earn less than $50,000 per year, and are enrolled in one of the federal income-driven student loan repayment programs, Get On Your Feet will pay up to the first 24 monthly loan repayments. Qualifying new lower-income workers are thus provided a two-year break from any student loan debt. It is one of the few state-level universal student debt-relief programs in the nation, and provides approximately $1 million to $2 million in debt relief in total each year to between 1,000 and 2,000 New York’s student borrowers.9

New York also offers a number of specialized student loan forgiveness programs designed to incentivize graduates to choose certain professions and reward them for doing so through elimination of a portion of their student loan debt. These programs are described in the table below.

New York State’s Targeted Student Loan Debt Relief Programs
Child Welfare Worker

Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program

Debt-relief awards up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of five years of service in New York State child welfare agencies. Approximately $50,000 per year in debt relief has been provided through this program.
District Attorney

Loan Forgiveness Program

Up to $3,400/year to a maximum total of $20,400 in debt relief is provided to lawyers for qualifying service in district attorney offices across the state. Between $2.1 million and $2.6 million in annual student loan relief has been provided in recent years.
Doctors Across New York Administered by the New York State Department of Health (other debt relief programs in this table are administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation), this program provides up to $40,000/year for a three-year commitment to practice in underserved communities, with a maximum benefit of $120,000.
Licensed Social Worker

Loan Forgiveness Program

Up to $6,500/year to a maximum total of $26,000 in debt relief for qualifying service as a licensed social worker in New York State. This program has recently provided $900,000 to $1.7 million in debt relief each year.
Nursing Faculty

Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program

A maximum of $8,000/year in loan forgiveness for five years of service ($40,000 total) for eligible nursing faculty. Approximately $1.2 million in student loan forgiveness is provided each year.
Regents Physician

Loan Forgiveness Program

Provides payment of loans for physicians who practice medicine in shortage areas in New York State. This program has provided about $1.2 million annually in debt relief in recent years. Up to 80 awards of up to $10,000/year for two years are provided.
Teacher

Loan Forgiveness Program

Loan forgiveness awards are made to teachers serving in high-need school districts or subject areas where a shortage exists. This program provides around $200,000 in loan relief each year.
Young Farmers

Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program

Loan forgiveness awards are offered to recent New York State college graduates (within the past two years) who agree to operate a farm in New York State on a full-time basis for five years. The program is capped at 10 recipients per year and at a maximum of $10,000 in assistance per recipient per year. Approximately $100,000 in loan relief is offered through this program each year.

SOURCE: HESC 2020-21 Annual Report; NYS Department of Health; New York State Education Department.

Further research could provide information about public awareness levels of these programs, effectiveness of the incentives offered to entice new entrants into the profession, program demand, short- and long-impacts on recipients’ economic well-being from the debt relief received, and other factors that would help inform program redesign where desired.

SUNY’s Re-Enroll to Complete Initiative

Although not a loan forgiveness program, SUNY’s Re-Enroll to Complete initiative is actively and effectively reducing the burden of student loan debt. From March 2018 to September 2021, 76,200 students who officially withdrew from a SUNY institution with federal student loan debt were contacted during the six-month grace period the federal government gives before monthly repayments begin, encouraging these students to reenroll and, hopefully, earn their degree. On average, college graduates will earn more, making their student loan debt more manageable, and they are less likely to default on their required student loan payments.

While federal data show that less than 1 percent of students who drop out of college reenroll within the repayment grace period, SUNY’s outreach through its Re-Enroll to Complete initiative has a reenrollment rate of more than 24 percent (18,589 students).10 By Fall 2021, 2,179 students who reenrolled graduated, and the program is experiencing a student retention rate of more than 82 percent.

Federal student loan debt relief can be offered as an incentive to enhance the success of SUNY’s Re-Enroll to Complete initiative (and other programs like it) by forgiving the loans incurred in the first year or two of students who withdrew from college but then return and complete their undergraduate degree.

Other States’ Student Debt Relief Programs

States other than New York offer dozens of different student loan repayment assistance programs, too. There are debt relief programs for doctors and other medical professionals (approximately 78 percent of those identified below), for teachers (16 percent), as relocation incentives (4 percent), and for public sector workers and public law attorneys (1 percent each). Several of these programs are quite innovative—Kansas’s Opportunity Zone program that offers student debt relief as an incentive to relocate to a rural part of the state; Maine’s creation of a refundable state income tax credit equal to the total annual amount of student loan repayments made; and, Maryland’s program that wipes out the outstanding debt of a new homebuyer, are examples of creative approaches. Many of these programs, including Mississippi’s debt relief program for teachers, actually make payments directly to participants’ student loan services on their behalf.

These state student debt relief programs include the following:11

Alabama Math and Science Teacher Education Program Certified teachers in math and/or science graduating from Alabama education schools. Up to $5,000/year for up to four years with the option to receive an additional $2,500/year for working in geographically acute shortage areas.
Alaska SHARP-3 Education loan repayment assistance and incentive grants for professionals working in medical, dental, and behavioral health disciplines. Practice sites must be in Alaska-designated areas and participating sites (or other local sources) must contribute a financial match to the state’s grant.
Arizona Rural Private Primary Care Provider Loan Repayment Program For an initial two-year service requirement in a rural area and practicing in a shortage area designated either by HRSA or Arizona, for physicians and dentists up to $52,000 to up to $65,000, depending on shortage severity; and for advanced practice providers et al., from $40,000 to $50,000. Renewable for a third, fourth, and fifth-plus year of service at a lower-annual assistance rate.
Arkansas State Teacher Education Program Up to $3,000 per year, maximum of three years, for teachers working in a state-designated geographic or subject area shortage area. Teachers of color are eligible for an additional $1,000/year in repayment assistance.
California Allied Healthcare Loan Repayment Program For licensed practitioners in several allied health fields serving in state-designated counties of need. Up to $16,000/year for one year of service, up to three years (annual application required). Must not be participating in NHSC loan repayment assistance programs.
California Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program Up to $10,000 in loan repayment assistance for one year of service for licensed registered nurses practicing in shortage areas or public facilities.
California County Medical Services Program Loan Repayment Program State-run program with parameters similar to its 50 percent federally-funded State Loan Repayment Program (see above).
California Licensed Mental Health Services Provider Education Program Loan repayments of up to $30,000 for a two-year service obligation providing direct mental health client care in a children’s hospital, public school public hospital, mental health facility, or other qualified facility.
California Licensed Vocational Nursing Loan Repayment Programs Loan repayments of up to $6,000 for licensed vocations nurses for one year of service in a designated-underserved community.
California Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Physicians and surgeons can receive up to $105,000 for a three-year commitment for direct patient care services in a state-designated underserved area or qualified facility. Must not be participating in NHSC loan repayment assistance programs.
Colorado Nurse Faculty Loan Repayment Program Up to $40,000 in loan repayment for two consecutive academic years in a qualified faculty position at an eligible nursing school.
Colorado Rural Essential Access Provider Loan Repayment Program Primary care providers at a state-approved rural site eligible for $15,000 (PAs; APNs; CPs; etc.) or $30,000 (physicians) for two-year service commitment. Must accept public medical social services patients and offer sliding-scale fees for others.
Colorado State Dental Loan Repayment Program Graduated loan repayment assistance awards based on volume of dental patients seen, ranging from $25,000 for fewer than 60 patients/month to $50,000 for 80 or more patients/month ($6,000-$12,000 for dental hygienists). two-year commitment to underserved patients.
Connecticut Minority Teacher Incentive Grant Program Underrepresented minority students are offered grants of $5,000/year for their final two years of school at a teacher education program. The program also provides up to four years of an annual $2,500 stipend to help pay off student loan debt for minority teachers in any Connecticut public school.
Florida Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program Loan repayment assistance of up to $4,000/year for up to four years, paid directly to loan services on behalf of student borrowers for nurses serving in a public health or education setting.
Georgia Physicians for Rural Areas Assistance Program $25,000/year toward medical school student loan debt in exchange for one year of service in a rural county with population of 50,000 or less. Renewable for up to a total of four years, for maximum loan assistance of $100,000.
Georgia Dentists for Rural Areas Assistance Program $25,000/year toward dental school student loan debt in exchange for one year of service in a medically-underserved rural county. Renewable for up to a total of four years, for maximum loan assistance of $100,000.
Georgia Physician Assistant Loan Repayment Program $10,000/year toward student loan debt in exchange for one year of service as a physician assistant in an underserved rural county. Renewable for up to a total of four years, for maximum loan assistance of $40,000.
Georgia Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Loan Repayment Program $10,000/year toward student loan debt in exchange for one year of service as a registered nurse in an underserved rural county. Renewable for up to a total of four years, for maximum loan assistance of $40,000.
Idaho Rural Physician Incentive Program Qualifying physicians serving HPSAs. Funded by fees assessed to physicians attending the University of Washington and University of Utah medical schools in state-supported seats. Maximum $100,000 in loan repayment assistance over a four-year period.
Illinois Teachers Loan Repayment Program Up to $5,000 in additional forgiveness to a five-plus-year teacher in low-income school who has had part of their loan forgiven by a federal loan forgiveness program and has a balance remaining.
Illinois Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program Up to $5,000 to be applied to education loan debt for nurses who complete one year of instruction as a teacher at an approved nursing school. Awards are renewable for up to four years, to a maximum award of $20,000.
Illinois Veterans’ Home Medical Providers’ Loan Repayment Program Up to $5,000 to be applied to education loan debt for medical service providers who complete one year of services at a State of Illinois veterans’ home. Awards are renewable for up to four years to a maximum award of $20,000.
Iowa Health Professional Recruitment Program In exchange for four years of full-time service in an eligible rural community, up to $50,000 is offered by the state, which is then matched by the employer, hospital, or community of service, for a total of $100,000 toward student loan repayment.
Iowa Health Care Loan Repayment Program RNs, PAs, and RNPs working in a service commitment area and nurse educators working as faculty at a Iowa college committing five years can receive the lesser of $6,000 or 20 percent of the total outstanding balance on student loans.
Iowa Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program Graduates of designated medical schools in Iowa can receive up to $200,000 in loan repayment assistance, paid in five annual installments, in exchange for five years as a provider in specified-rural commitment areas. Service commitment areas provide a $20,000 matching contribution that is held in trust by the state to fund future awards.
Iowa Teach Iowa Scholar Program Up to $4,000 a year for loan repayment assistance, for a maximum of five years, for teachers who graduated in the top 25 percent of the class in their teacher prep program and are currently teaching in Iowa schools in designated shortage areas.
Kansas Kansas Bridging Plan Matching funds from the state and a healthcare organization provide a combined financial incentive of a minimum of $25,000 in exchange for a three-year commitment to practice in an eligible rural county. Up to 14 primary care and three psychiatry spots awarded annually.
Kansas Rural Opportunity Zones In funding partnership (50-50) with counties, cities, employers, and foundations, state provides up to $15,000 over five years in student loan repayment assistance for college graduates who move into rural counties.
Maine Opportunity Maine Tax Credit The state offers income tax credits equal to student loan payments made for folks who live and work in Maine. For associate degree earners and bachelor degrees in STEM fields, the tax credit is fully refundable. For bachelor degrees in non-STEM fields and for graduate degrees earned at a Maine college, the credit is nonrefundable but excess is able to be carried forward for 10 years.
Maryland Dent-Care Loan Assistance Repayment Program A dentist with at least 30 percent of their patient population as Maryland Medical Assistance Program recipients can receive up to $23,740/years for up to three years in student loan repayment assistance.
Maryland Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program State residents providing public service in state/local government or nonprofit agencies providing services to low-income underserved residents: lawyers, nurses, licensed clinical counselors, PT/OT, social workers, speech paths, teachers. Annual salary cannot exceed $75,000. Annual repayment assistance awards based on amount of outstanding debt, ranging from $1,500/year to $10,000/year for up to three years.
Maryland SmartBuy 3.0 Program This program pays off the entire student loan debt for qualifying individuals if purchasing a house. Student debt must be more than $1,000 and the award is capped at $30,000 or 15 percent of the purchase price of the home, whichever is lower. Student debt must be fully paid off within the program’s parameters. Purchasers and properties must qualify for the Maryland Mortgage Program.
Minnesota Dentist Loan Forgiveness Up to $40,000/year in loan repayment assistance for newly graduating dentists in exchange for a commitment to serve a minimum of 25 percent public program or sliding-scale-fee participants. Maximum four years of repayment awards.
Minnesota Long Term Care Nurse Loan Forgiveness Up to $6,000/year in loan repayment assistance for LPN or RN serving in a nursing home, home care, or similarly qualified setting for two years, renewable for an additional two years.
Minnesota Allied Health Care Faculty Loan Forgiveness

and

Nurse Faculty Loan Forgiveness

Faculty in an allied healthcare program or nursing teaching at least 12 credit hours are eligible for loan repayment assistance of up to $11,000/year for a minimum of three years and maximum of four years of service. Must begin service obligation with a year of completion of master’s or doctoral program.
Minnesota Rural Advanced Practice Provider Loan Forgiveness

and

Urban Advanced Practice Provider Loan Forgiveness

Up to $14,000/year in loan repayment assistance for nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse practitioner, physician assistant, certified nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, and advanced clinical nurse specialist in exchange for three-year service commitment (fourth year optional) in a designated rural area. Urban program open only to psychiatric nurse practitioners.
Minnesota Rural Dental Therapist/Advanced Dental Therapist Loan Forgiveness Up to $13,000/year in loan repayment assistance for dental and advanced dental therapists committing to serve a minimum of three years (fourth year optional) in a designated rural area.
Minnesota Rural Mental Health Professional Loan Forgiveness

and

Urban Mental Health Professional Loan Forgiveness

For licensed psychologist, independent clinic social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional clinical counselors, and alcohol and drug counselors. Loan repayment assistance of up to $18,000/year for psychologists, and $9,300/year for others for a three-year service commitment (fourth year optional) in a designated rural/urban area.
Minnesota Rural Pharmacist Loan Forgiveness Program Up to $24,000/year in loan repayment assistance for pharmacists in exchange for a minimum three-year service commitment (fourth year optional) in a designated rural/urban area.
Minnesota Rural Physician Loan Forgiveness Program

and

Urban Physician Loan Forgiveness Program

Up to $29,000/year ($116,000 maximum) in loan repayment assistance for primary care, pediatric, family practice, internal medicine, OB/GYN physicians, and psychiatrists in exchange for a minimum three-year service commitment (fourth year optional) in a designated rural/urban area.
Minnesota Rural Public Health Nurse Loan Forgiveness Up to $6,000/year in loan repayment assistance for RN with certificate as public health nurse in exchange for a minimum three-year service commitment (fourth year optional) in a designated rural area .
Mississippi Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program For first-time, first-year teachers in public schools. For year one, up to $1,500 in loan repayment assistance for those not working in a critical shortage area, and those who are receive up to $4,000; for year two, $2,500 or $5,000; for year three, $3,500 or $6,000. Awards are paid directly to the loan servicer.
Missouri Nurse Loan Repayment Program Up to $10,000 in loan repayment assistance for RNs and up to $20,000 advance practice nurses, nurse practitioners, certified nurse anesthetists, or family nurse practitioners in exchange for two years of service in a shortage area.
Montana Rural Physician Incentive Program Graduated installment payments of increasing amounts are made every six month directly to loan servicers on behalf of physicians who commit to serving in rural or underserved areas of the state. Awards begin at $10,000 for six months of service, grow to $20,000 at 60 months of service, and maximum total assistance is $150,000. Funded by fees assessed to Montana medical students in certain education programs.
Nevada NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program Pays down 60 percent of qualifying educational loan balance for a two-year service commitment at a critical shortage facility. For nurse faculty, funding preference is based on financial need of the applicant and employment at schools of nursing where at least half of the enrolled students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
New Jersey STEM Loan Redemption Program Once a teacher has worked for at least four years in a designated high-growth STEM occupation, up to $2,000 of eligible student loan expenses can be redeemed each year for up to four years, for a maximum loan payment reimbursement of $8,000. Of the annual $2,000 loan redemption payment, up to $1,000 is funded by the state with the balance matched by an equal contribution from the teacher’s current employer.
New Jersey Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program For full-time faculty employed at a New Jersey nursing school for five years following completion of the approved graduate degree program. Loan repayment assistance awards graduated by year of service: first year: $5,000; second year: $7,000; third year: $10,000; fourth year: $13,000; and fifth year: $15,000. Total not to exceed $50,000.
New Jersey NJCLASS Loan Redemption Program for New Jersey Teachers Up to $5,000/year, for up to four years, as loan redemption of state NJCLASS loans for teaching in a high-needs field.
New Mexico Public Service Law Loan Repayment Program Attorneys in a three-year service commitment to provide legal services to low-income and underserved residents or be employed in a public law office with annual salaries not exceeding $75,000 eligible for up to $7,200/year in student loan repayment assistance.
New York See Previous Section
North Dakota Dental Loan Repayment Dentists practicing in geographic or specialty area shortage areas eligible for up to $100,000 in loan payment assistance for five years of service with $20,000 awarded after each year of service.
North Dakota Healthcare Professional Loan Repayment Program Awards of $4,000/year, $12,000/year, or $20,000/year depending on medical discipline (from RN to MD, e.g.) in exchange for a service agreement of up to five years in a shortage area. Required community match of 10-50 percent of state award depending on discipline.
North Dakota Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program Up to $80,000 loan repayment assistance (paid directly to servicer) available for veterinarians committing to work for up to four years in rural areas: $15,000 awarded after six months; $15,000 after second year; $25,000 each after third and fourth years.
Ohio Dentist and Dental Hygienist Loan Repayment Program In exchange for loan repayment assistance of up to $25,000/year, dentists commit to practicing for two years in a shortage area, accept Medicaid, and see patients regardless of ability to pay. Service commitments can be renewed for a third and fourth year for an additional $35,000/year in assistance. (Maximum award: $120,000). Funded by a fee on dental licenses.
Oklahoma Physician Loan Repayment Program Up to $50,000/year, $200,000 maximum over four years, as loan repayment assistance for licensed primary care physicians who agree to establish a practice in a rural community. Community match required.
Oklahoma Physician Assistant Loan Repayment Program Up to $60,000 for licensed primary care physician assistants who agree to establish a practice in a rural or underserved community for three years: $10,000 paid after year one; $20,000 after year two; and $30,000 after year three. Required 50-50 match with local community.
Oklahoma Dental Loan Repayment Program Student loan repayment assistance of up to $25,000/year for up to five years for dentist practicing in a shortage area and accepting at least 30 percent Medicaid patients. Dentists may also qualify as being faculty at the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. Must have graduated from dental school during the last five years. Capped at 25 dentists.
Oklahoma Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program For graduates of an Oklahoma institution getting certified in math or science, commitment to teach for at least five years.
Ohio Dentist and Dental Hygienist  Loan Repayment Program $25,000/year for two years in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment to practice in a designated shortage area, treat Medicaid patients, and provide care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. Renewable up to $35,000/year for an additional two years. Funded by a fee on dental licenses.
Oregon Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Qualifying healthcare service providers commit to a three-year service obligation in exchange for a tax-free award of 50 percent of their qualifying loan debt balance, up to $35,000 per service year.
South Carolina Teacher Loan Forgiveness Greater of 20 percent of annual student loan payments or $3,000 for each full year of teaching in a public school in a critical subject or critical geographic area. Award increased to greater of 33-1/3 percent or $5,000 if both critical subject and area.
Texas Physician Education Loan Repayment Program In exchange for a four-year commitment of service in a shortage area, physicians are eligible for loan repayment assistance of up to $30,000 after the first year, $40,000 after the second year, $50,000 after the third year, and $60,000 after the fourth year, for a total loan repayment assistance award of up to $180,000.
Texas Nursing Faculty Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to $7,000/year in student loan repayment assistance available for up to five years for those employed as a nursing school faculty member.
Texas Rural Communities Health Care Investment Program $10,000 in loan repayment assistance for healthcare professionals other than physicians committing to practice in a rural county.
Texas Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program Up to $2,500/year for a maximum of five years for teaching in a state-designated critical-shortage area in a public school.
Utah Health Care Workforce Financial Assistance Program Healthcare professionals agreeing to serve for a minimum of three years in a federally-designated underserved area are eligible for loan repayment assistance ranging from $15,000/year for an AA RN and $30,000/year for a BA/BS RN to $75,000/year for a physician, dentist, or pharmacist. The employing site is required to pay 20 percent of annual awards.
Utah Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program Physicians agreeing to a two-year service commitment to practice in a rural area are eligible for up to $40,000/year, matched 50-50 by state and employer funds, in loan repayment assistance awards. An optional additional year of continued service and benefit is available bringing the maximum debt relief award to $120,000.
Washington Health Corps State Health Program Qualifying healthcare professionals committing to three years of full-time service in underserved areas are eligible for up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance.
Washington Health Corps Behavioral Health Program Qualifying mental and behavioral healthcare professionals committing to three years of full-time service in underserved areas are eligible for up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance.
West Virginia Underwood-Smith Teacher Loan Assistance Program Up to $3,000/year is paid toward federal student loan debt for teachers of mathematics, science, special education, and elementary education, as well as school counselors, serving in a public school. Two years of service is required for each year of aid received.
Wisconsin Health Professions Loan Assistance Program Physicians, psychiatrists, and dentists can receive up to $50,000 in education loan repayment assistance, and dental hygienists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives can receive up to $25,000 in education loan assistance in exchange for a three-year service commitment to serve in a shortage area.
Wisconsin Rural Provider Loan Assistance Program Physicians, psychiatrists, and dentists can receive up to $50,000 in education loan repayment assistance if they practice in a rural area for three years.
Wyoming Veterinary Loan Repayment Program For three years of veterinary service in an underserved area, participants may receive up to $30,000/year in loan repayment assistance. Seventy-five percent is paid by the state (Wyoming’s Livestock Board) and 25 percent is paid by the locality, employing clinic, or other local source.

Scholarships as Forgivable Loans

Still more federal and state student debt relief programs are structured as forgivable loans that initially serve as scholarships. That is, students attend school free from tuition and other expenses in exchange for future service (akin to how the country’s military academies operate). Fulfilling the required service commitment for these programs prevents the tuition subsidy from becoming a loan and allows students to avoid incurring any debt. Examples of federal programs include the following:

Federal Scholarship/Forgivable Loan Programs

Federally funded scholarships are offered for medical training that cover all tuition and fees and other reasonable educational costs, plus a monthly living-expense stipend, at students’ schools of choice. In exchange, students commit to a year of service as a healthcare professional in an NHSC-approved site experiencing a shortage of providers for each year of scholarship accepted (there is a minimum two-year services commitment, and a maximum four-year scholarship). The scholarships are treated as student loans, which do not accrue interest and are forgiven upon completion of each year of service.

Similar to the NHSC’s program, the Health Resources and Services Administration offers a forgivable loan/scholarship program for nursing students, with one year of scholarship for tuition, fees, other educational expenses, and monthly stipend in exchange for one year of service, up to four years maximum and with a minimum two-year service commitment.

HRSA also offers a forgivable loan/scholarship program for native Hawaiians pursuing a medical career as a clinical psychologist, dentist, dental hygienist, dietitian/nutritionist, nurse, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, physician, physician assistant, or social worker, with one year of scholarship for tuition, fees, other educational expenses, and monthly stipend in exchange for each year of service, up to four years maximum and with a minimum two-year service commitment in a medically underserved area of Hawaii.

State Scholarship/Forgivable Loan Programs

Examples of state forgivable loan programs include the following:

  • Arizona

Teacher Student Loan Program: Up to $7,000 per academic year for up to three years for tuition, instructional materials, and mandatory fees, in exchange for a pledge to teach in an Arizona public school in a term equal to the number of years of loan received plus one year.

  • Colorado

Educator Loan Forgiveness Program: Up to $5,000 of loan forgiveness per year is available to teachers, administrators, and special service providers working in a Colorado public school as of the 2021-22 school year, and working in an approved rural school or district and/or in a designated content shortage area.

Health Service Corps Scholarship Program for Addiction Counselors: Up to $5,000 for tuition and fees of a clinical addiction counseling training program in exchange for six months of service as a counselor at a state-approved site.

  • Delaware

Delaware Teacher Corps: Forgivable loan up to the amount of annual tuition, renewable for a total of four years for individuals training as teachers in defined critical shortage areas. One year of loan forgiven after each year of service in a Delaware public school.

  • Maine

Educators for Maine Program: Current Maine students pursuing careers in education or child care and planning to work in Maine after graduation are eligible, on a competitive and merit-based basis, for up $4,000 per year undergraduate and $3,000 per year graduate as a forgivable loan. One year of loan is forgiven for each year worked in the state.

Dental Education Loan Program: For Maine residents, up to $25,000 per year to a maximum total of $100,000 is available as a forgivable loan to help cover the costs of dental school. Recipients must practice primary dental care full time in an underserved area of the state, in an eligible dental care facility, for four years. Twenty-five percent of the total loan balance is forgiven in each of the four years.

Veterinary Medicine Loan Program: For Maine residents, up to $25,000 per year to a maximum total of $100,000 is available as a forgivable loan to help cover the costs of veterinary school. Recipients must practice veterinary medicine full time in an underserved area of the state. The amount of forgiveness granted for each year of service varies depending on how much of the practice is devoted to livestock, with a maximum 25 percent loan forgiveness granted each year if the practice dedicates half or more of its services to livestock.

  • Missouri

Minority Teaching Scholarship: Up to $2,000 per year from the state plus $1,000 from the institution is available to underrepresented minority teachers as a forgivable loan in exchange for a five-year commitment to teach in Missouri public schools. Each year of service receives 20 percent of the total loan balance forgiven.

Health Professional Nursing Student Loans: Forgivable loans of up to $2,500 per year for students pursuing licensure as a practical nurse and up to $5,000 per year for those pursuing licensure as an RN, with a commitment to serve in a federally-designated shortage area one year for each year of loan taken. A year of loan is forgiven upon completion of each year of service.

Primary Care Resource Initiative for Missouri (PRIMO): Undergraduate students may receive up to four loans of up to $5,000 per year; students pursuing doctorates in medicine and dentistry may receive four loans up to $20,000 per year; medical students in an eligible six-year program may receive loans of $10,000 the first two years and $20,000 for each of the remaining four years; and physicians in a primary care residency may qualify for loans of $10,000 per year for a maximum of three years. Forgiveness is earned by working as a primary care provider in a federally designated health professional shortage area for one year for each loan taken, up to five years.

  • North Carolina

Forgivable Education Loans for Service: Loans of up to $3,000 per year for the first two years and $7,000 per year for the last two years for BA/BS; an additional $20,000 for MA/MS; and, an additional $56,000 for MD/PhD schooling is available as forgivable loans if upon completion of education work is performed in selected service areas—education, allied health, nursing, medicine—with one year of loan forgiven for each year of service performed.

  • Oklahoma

Physician/Community Match Program : A forgivable loan program for physicians practicing in a participating rural area of the state, with $30,000 available for a two-year service commitment and $50,000 for a three-year commitment. The program is funded 60 percent by the state and 40 percent by the local community. The loan is forgiven after completion of the service obligation.

Family Practice Resident Rural Scholarship Program: A forgivable loan program, up to $1,000 per month, for Oklahoma medical residents-in-training who select and match with an approved rural community and spend one month in their third year of residency on elective rotation in the community, then return to practice in that community upon completion of the residency training for at least one month for each month of loan taken (a minimum 12-month unit is needed to qualify for forgiveness).

Physician Assistant Scholarship Program: A forgivable loan program, up to $1,000 per month, for Oklahoma physician assistants-in-training who commit to practice in an approved rural area upon completion of training for one month for each month of loan taken (a minimum 12-month unit is needed to qualify for forgiveness).

  • Oregon

Primary Health Care Loan Forgiveness: Forgivable loans made to medical students in rural provider training tracks, up to $35,000 per year. PAs and NPs eligible for one year; MDs and DOs are eligible for up to three years. A year of loan is forgiven for each year of service provided.

  • Tennessee

Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program: Up to $7,000 per year, for up to four years, in forgivable loans for individuals enrolled in a graduate nursing education program in Tennessee. For each continuous year as faculty or administrator in a Tennessee nursing education program, 25 percent of the total loan balance is forgiven.

Minority Teaching Fellows Program: $5,000 per year for up to four years offered as forgivable loans to underrepresented minority students pursuing teacher certification with a commitment to teach in a public Tennessee school. After each full-time year of teaching service, one year’s loan award is forgiven.

Local Student Debt Relief Initiatives

Even local municipalities are initiating student debt relief programs as strategic incentives to lure new residents or certain professional talent, typically designed to support increased economic activity and fill particular skills needs. Examples of these programs include the following:

Relocation Incentives
  • Clair County, MI: The Community Foundation of St. Clair County offers up to $15,000 through its Come Home Award to help repay students’ loans if their degree and job are in a STEAM field and they are moving back to the county to live.
  • Hamilton, OH: For college graduates within the past seven years in a STEAM field, and newly relocating to the city (the tenth largest in the state) to live in a designated area and work in its home county of Butler, the Hamilton Community Foundation offers through its Talent Attraction Program “reverse scholarships” of up to $10,000 for student loan repayment, paid in $300 monthly installments for continuing qualified residents.
  • Newburgh Heights, OH: New homebuyers can qualify for payments of 50 percent of their outstanding student loan balance, up to a maximum of $50,000, through the village’s Student Loan Assistance Grant Program. To ensure longevity of residence, 80 percent of the award is paid after 10 years of ownership, with the balance paid at 15 years.
Teacher Awards
  • New York City, NY: The Jose P. Loan Forgiveness Program provides tax-free student loan repayment assistance grants of up to $24,000 for newly hired classroom teachers and pedagogic clinicians working in specified shortage areas and bilingual education in designated schools. To be eligible, teachers must remain in the classroom in a New York City school district for six consecutive years.

Trade Association, College-based, and Other Specialized Student Debt Relief Initiatives

A number of professional trade associations, private colleges, and quasi-public entities also offer student debt relief programs designed as incentives for graduates to pursue a career in a particular field. These programs often are creative—such as the Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota’s initiative that reimburses public interest attorneys for their loan payments every three months until they qualify for federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness forgivable loans, or Delta Dental of South Dakota’s program that offers larger loan repayment assistance grants to dentists who take on greater proportions of Medicaid patients—and have varying eligibility qualifications, debt relief benefits, and program requirements. A selection of these initiatives appears below.

Dental School Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
Law School Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
  • Albany Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of three years is available as a forgivable loan for those starting their legal careers in public interest fields and earning below $61,000 in their first year of service. 75 percent of the loan is forgiven for between one and two years of public service law, and the full balance is forgiven for more than two years of service.
  • DC Bar Foundation‘s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. One-year interest-free forgivable loans of up to $12,000 per year are available to qualified attorneys who are providing legal assistance to low-income District of Columbia residents at approved legal assistance organizations.
  • Florida Bar Foundation‘s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to $5,000 as a loan, forgiven annually for each year of completed service with legal assistance organizations that receive grants from the Florida Bar Association, to pay down outstanding student loan debt.
  • Indiana Bar Foundation‘s Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Program. For attorneys working at civil legal aid organizations with an annual salary that does not exceed $50,000, loans of up to $5,000 are available each year, paid quarterly to recipients as reimbursement for student loan payment made and forgiven annually.
  • Legal Services Corporation’s national Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Each year the Legal Services Corporation provides forgivable loans of $8,000 per year to approximately 250 attorneys serving as Legal Aid lawyers. Attorneys’ annual salary cannot exceed $62,500 and as long as they remain eligible and in good standing the loan is forgiven after 12 months of qualifying service.
  • Louisiana Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to $5,000 per year, for a maximum of 10 years and not to exceed in total 75 percent of the annual debt service on the outstanding loan balance, awarded to attorneys with student loan debt who are working at civil legal aid providers and whose annual income does not exceed $65,000.
  • Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota helps legal aid attorneys repay their student loans until they reach the qualification period for federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Loans are provided, and forgiven in three-month increments throughout however long attorneys wish to participate in the program.
  • North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation (NC LEAF) offers student loan repayment assistance to public interest attorneys in the form of forgivable loans. The organization prioritizes awards based on outstanding debt loan and annual income of applicants.
  • Oregon State Bar‘s Loan Repayment Assistance Program offers a forgivable loan of up to $7,500 per year to help pay off student loan debt to attorneys working with civil legal aid organizations, other private non-profit organizations providing direct legal representation of low-income individuals, as public defenders, or as deputy district attorneys. Those with incomes less than $70,000 and debt greater than $35,000 are eligible.
  • Pennsylvania Bar Foundation’s PA IOLTA Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to 10 years of annual forgivable loans are available for attorneys at a public interest legal organization that is a recipient of an Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grant. Loans are forgiven entirely after each year of completed service. Applicant’s total gross salary may not exceed $66,000 (however, applications will be considered if annual net debt service is 10 percent or more of any level of salary).
  • Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s and State Bar of Texas’s Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Attorneys choosing to pursue legal aid careers in Texas and working for an organization receiving a grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation and earning less than $80,000 per year are eligible for student loan repayment assistance awards of up to $500 per month. The awards are structured as loans, forgiven in their entirety at the end of every 12-month period.
  • University of Colorado Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Up to $5,500 per year as a loan for those starting their legal careers in public interest fields, with the loan forgiven after each year of service completed.
  • University of Denver Sturm College of Law‘s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Loan repayment assistance awards made through a competitive application process to attorneys working in and committed to the public interest legal sector. Applicants must be enrolled in a federal income-based repayment program and have an annual income less than $75,000. Awards, which are renewable for up to 10 years, have historically ranged from between 15 percent and 75 percent of monthly repayment amounts.
  • University of South Carolina Law School’s Public Interest Loan Forgiveness Fund. Loan repayment assistance awards made to attorneys committing to work for two years (with a one-year renewable option for additional assistance) for a tax-exempt organization or a governmental entity. Amounts of awards vary and are determined by a committee reviewing applications for assistance, which takes into account annual income, size of loan debt, and other factors.
  • University of Virginia School of Law’s Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program provides student loan repayment assistance for attorneys employed in public service with annual incomes less than $85,000 and enrolled in federal income-based loan repayment programs. Individuals with annual incomes less than $65,000 receive assistance equaling 100 percent of their loan repayment obligation. The Virginia Commonwealth Plan provides loan repayment assistance to attorneys in private practice in underserved areas of the state under similar income conditions and benefits.
  • Vermont Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. For attorneys who wish to continue employment in civil legal aid or the state’s Office of Defender General and whose annual salary does not exceed $60,000, loans of up to $5,000 per year are available, which are forgiven after each year of eligible service is completed.
Technical Professions Student Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
  • Rhode Island Wavemaker Fellowship. Refundable income tax credits equal to student loan payment amounts for up to four years for work in Rhode Island and in eligible fields, including: life, natural, or environmental sciences; computer, information, or software technology; advanced mathematics or finance; engineering; industrial design; or medicine or medical device technology. Maximum annual credits of $6,000 for master’s degree or higher, $4,000 for bachelor, and $2,000 for associate’s. Around 200 people typically receive an award each year. The maximum credit is $6,000 with a master’s degree or higher, $4,000 with a bachelor’s degree, and $1,000 with an associate’s degree. Application and approval by a committee of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation required.

Conclusion

The federal government enacted a two-and-a-half-year “pause” on required monthly repayments of outstanding student loans, and during that time the Biden Administration eliminated approximately $18 billion in existing debt for 1.3 million student borrowers. Still, the amount of outstanding student loan debt continues to burden millions more. While speculation abounds that even more federal relief will be announced before monthly loan repayments are required to restart in September, hundreds of federal, state, local, and private student loan repayment assistance programs already exist, offering many borrowers the opportunity for relief from the burden of school debt. Further research about each program could shed important light on how well these programs are at reaching target borrowers, how effective they are at offering incentives that achieve program objectives, and to offer some measurement of costs to benefits.

Repayment assistance grants and loan forgiveness programs surely help. It is helpful context to understand that they are designed to increase the economic well-being only of current student loan borrowers, however. Long-term programmatic reforms in college affordability and college completion supports will be needed if incoming classes of students are not to face the same financial challenges that led to the country’s student debt crisis in the first place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Backstrom is director of education policy studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government

NOTES

[1] Daniel M. Renner et al., “The Influence of Loan Repayment on Rural Healthcare Provider Recruitment and Retention in Colorado,” Rural and Remote Health 10, 1605 (September 4, 2010).

[2] To ensure credit for previously denied prior service, participants must apply to the program before October 31, 2022, to receive relief under the reforms.

[3] A governmental agency under the US Department of Health and Human Services.

[4] Seventy percent of student graduate from public medical schools with debt; 74 percent at private schools. Class of 2021.

[5] The Health Resources and Services Administration’ Bureau of Health Workforce funds the National Health Service Corps, through which the SLRP is offered and funded by a grant. The HRSA funds the SLRP in four-year grant cycles.

[6] Section 388 of the Public Health Service Act, as amended by Public Law 101–597 and Public Law 111–148 (42 USC 254-1).

[7] HPSAs are rated on how severe the provider shortage is. SLRP debt relief awards are capped at $30,000 for service in HPSAs that score below a set threshold.

[8] The American Rescue Plan adopted by Congress in March 2021 and signed into law by President Biden suspended the need for a non-federal funds match for the 2022 grant cycle.

[9] The average annual debt relief paid for Get On Your Feet (GOYF) program participants has been between $918 and $1,234 in recent years. GOYF payments were suspended concurrent with the federal suspension of required student loan repayments during 2020-2022.

[10] More than 40 percent of re-enrolling students are from underrepresented minority groups; the percentage of re-enrolling student who identified themselves as Black (19.5 percent) is almost double the enrollment rate for Black students for SUNY overall (10.7 percent). (Author communication, SUNY Office of Student Financial Aid, October 13, 2021.)

[11] State programs that simply administer federal debt relief programs such as the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program and the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program are excluded from this list unless it was found that states supplement awards made to program participants.

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