TOPEKA –  Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland today announced significant changes to the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) program that could increase participation in student loan repayments for people moving to rural Kansas counties.

Individuals who earn an associate degree or higher and move to a designated ROZ county they haven’t lived in for the preceding two years are eligible to have up to $15,000 in student loan debt repaid. Previously, individuals had to live elsewhere for the preceding five years to be eligible.

Commerce also clarified the language describing a student’s permanent residence. Rural residents who occupied a dorm room or apartment during college and kept their permanent address on their driver’s license as their parents’ residence, for example, no longer would be denied eligibility in the program when they returned to their home community following graduation.

“Kansas is ranked one of the top states in the nation for higher education, but then loses too many graduates who pursue career opportunities in other states,” Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said . “Ensuring more students can utilize the Student Loan Repayment Program is critical to keeping and bringing our young talent back to their rural communities. These updates will make Kansas a more financially attractive option for graduates.”

The new rules will make it easier to participate in the program for individuals who complete required internships, practicums and residencies or are traveling nurses to remain in an ROZ county and establish permanent residency there.

Ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the revised regulations will help increase the number of eligible educated students that rural communities can court. An expanded pool of eligible sponsors for the program now includes employers, foundations, cities, chambers of commerce, Main Street organizations and other community or economic development groups that can utilize the incentive to recruit new workers to rural communities.

“We want to be able to incentivize these highly trained individuals to stay in our rural communities after they complete their training or education,” Kansas Office of Rural Prosperity Director Trisha Purdon said . “With so many students required to complete internships as part of their education, extending ROZ eligibility to include professional practicum experiences will help provide them with long-term employment opportunities in Kansas.”

The program will continue to offer a 100 percent state income tax credit if the eligible participant has not lived in Kansas or received Kansas-based income for the preceding five years.

The program application period is open annually from January 1 to September 30. To apply for student loan repayment assistance or to learn more about eligibility for the program, visit the ROZ website here.

A virtual webinar to explain the program changes will be at 1:00 p.m. Thursday, April 25. Potential applicants, sponsors, schools, cities, counties, foundations, economic development organizations and other employers recruiting workforce are encouraged to attend. 

Registration for the webinar is required. To register, click here.    

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