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Rural Areas Give Incentives to those with Student Loan Debt

By Jen Kornreich Geller

NEW YORK (MainStreet) --Last year after completing her master's degree, Dayna Bechard Elliott, 34, took some major risks few would consider. She quit her corporate job in Kansas City and moved to Tribune, Kansas ( 741) to open a restaurant with a business partner. Burdened with $30,000 in student loan debt, she admits this life change could have been a recipe for financial failure. But Elliott had a big safety net: the state of Kansas would help to pay off her student loans as long as she lived in a rural part of the state.

An increasing number of cities and states are trying combat dwindling populations-commonly known as the brain drain- by luring recent graduates to their areas offering economic incentives such as college loan reimbursement and tax exemptions to those who move there. With student loan debt in the U.S. fast approaching the $1 trillion mark and the majority of those loans at $10,000 or more, this perk is becoming increasingly attractive.

Kansas has implemented Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) offering $15,000 in college loan debt repayment and in some cases waiving income tax for up to five years for moving to one of these 50 rural counties. Jobs, which are more elusive in other parts of the country, are not a problem here.

"We need skilled labor in these areas," said Chris Harris, program manager with the Kansas Department of Commerce. "The population is aging. We need doctors, lawyers, teachers and people to take over small businesses as the older generations retire here. It's an aging and shrinking population and we need educated people to do these jobs."

In fact, only 10% of the jobs open in these rural counties are farming jobs. The vast majority of them are in healthcare, education and other white-collar professions. According to Harris, 98% of the 420 people already taking part in the program have secured employment.

But life in rural Kansas is probably how you'd imagine it. "It's desolate and for a single person it's even more difficult." explains Jordan Kinsey, who moved to Norton, Kansas ( 2,900) to teach music at the local high school.