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Student loan forgiveness is lure for high-skilled workers / June 10, 2019
The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission voted Thursday to revamp its student loan forgiveness program to boost incentives for young teachers, engineers and medical professionals to move to Southside and Southwest Virginia.

The TRRC Talent Attraction Program replaces the commission’s prior four-year loan program, which provided up to $2,000 for repayment of student loans if the recipient returned to the area post-graduation. That program was restricted to college graduates who hailed from the tobacco region and returned to work in one of the local communities.

The expanded program provides student debt relief to all comers who agree to live in the tobacco region of Southside and Southwest and work in hard-to-fill positions in K-12 education, health care and skilled manufacturing and information technology occupations. The $3 million program budget will pay for around 200 new or returning residents.

The Talent Attraction Program (TAP) will provide up to $12,000 annually in student loan repayment with a two-year commitment. This two-year period may be renewed for a further two years for a total possible repayment of $48,000 over four years.

To be eligible for this program students must have:

» graduated within the past 18 months of the application deadline

» reside within the tobacco region during the 24 month period during which the award is made, and

» begin full-time employment in the tobacco region within six months in one of the following occupations within the region:

- Public school teacher in science, math, technology/computer science, or career and technical education (grades 6-12)

- Public school special education teacher, K-12

- Speech language pathologist

- Physical therapist

- Occupational therapist

- Industrial or electrical engineer

- Information security, network, or computer systems analyst

Applicants will also be asked to become significantly civically engaged in their community. Examples of this include volunteering with local non-profit or government activities such as the United Way, Junior League, Ruritan Club, PTA, food banks, coaching youth sports or other pursuits, with a total annual engagement of at least 50 hours per year.

Evan Feinman, executive director of the Tobacco Commission, noted that the Talent Attraction Program is similar to other initiatives around the country that offer student debt repayment as a way to draw recent college graduates to areas that are losing population and experiencing difficulty filling highly-skilled positions. Maine and Kansas are among the states that have seen success with such programs.

In a nod to commission members who expressed a preference for providing benefits to students who hail from Southside and Southwest, the TCCR agreed to give preference to those were raised in the tobacco footprint and are returning after completing their education. However, the program will be open to applicants from across the country.

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