Brain drain is a common curse. Plenty of cities throughout the United States face an exodus of their educated citizens, fleeing from metropolitan areas for the opportunities they can afford.
But now some of those cities are offering to pay some or all of graduates' student loans if they live and work in that city. Some are even offering tax breaks to retain an educated workforce.
Seth Piccirillo, the Niagara Falls director of community development, is starting such a program in his city. Lee Waldron, director of Enrollment Operations at Tabor College, participated in a loan repayment program in rural Kansas.
Waldron began to consider the option to relocate from California to Kansas when his wife gave birth to their first child. As she is a Sunflower State native, the couple began thinking about moving back to be closer to her family. "We started hearing about this program from our in-laws and they told us the incentives, and it really made sense for me financially," Waldron says. "Going into three years of marriage, we were trying to get out of debt as quick as we can."
As part of the program, Waldron receives around $3,000 every year for the next five years for a total of $15,000. Moving to the small town of Hillsboro, he believes, was the right decision for his family's future. "It had two perks: to be closer to the family, but also to be able to jump ahead financially, which is something I wanted to take advantage of as well."
Piccirillo's program in Niagara Falls offers a similar incentive for freshly-minted professionals. "We're a city that has lost 50,000 people over the last 50 years. We're a post-industrial city trying to redefine itself."
Participants in the program, which received $200,000 of initial funding this week, will either own or rent a home in a select neighborhood in the city. If participants remain in good standing with their student loans and mortgage company or landlord, they will be receive up to $3,500 a year for two years. By Piccirillo's team’s estimates, the average college graduate pays around $291 per month, which comes to $3,492 annually.
Debt relief is a major incentive for recent college graduates. The New York Times recently reported that total student loans have passed the $1 trillion mark for the first time.
Both the Kansas and the Niagara Falls programs hope to revitalize their communities by attracting young professionals for the long term. Waldron sees the Kansas initiative as an investment in the well-being of rural towns. "It brings a quality individual to the town with the hopes that that person will establish roots there, will buy a home, purchase a vehicle, and allow the income to flourish into the community."
In Niagara Falls, Piccirillo says, just 100-150 people could make a major positive impact on the city. "We're looking for lifelong residents and lifelong leaders in the community."