Editorial from Marc Levy, Executive Director

Sunday, August 20, 2017 1 :00 am

School loan forgiveness helps build, retain talent

Gov. Eric Holcomb's Next Level Jobs initiative is a worthy effort to meet the demand for employees in certain sectors.  Unlike many job programs in recent years, the initiative isn't a scattershot effort to plug unemployed Hoosiers into any job. This one rightly focuses on high-wage jobs in health, advanced manufacturing, construction, information technology and more.

If the governor wants to move to the next level, however, he should look to emulate Questa Education Foundation's work as a way to build the talent pipeline. Questa's unique loan forgiveness programs show impressive results in encouraging students to graduate on time, with much-reduced debt and with a strong incentive to remain in Indiana after graduation. The programs support both traditional college students and adults seeking college degrees or
industry certifications.

The state could benefit by investing student aid or workforce development dollars in similar programs. After seven years, Questa boasts a nearly 80 percent on-time graduation rate for participants at four-year colleges, compared with a statewide on-time rate of 51.2 percent. Ninety percent of Questa Scholars graduated in five years. And in stark contrast to the brain-drain effect plaguing much of the state, two-thirds of the graduates have remained in northeast Indiana.

Marc Levy, Questa's executive director, credits the structure of the program, which provides loans of up to $5,000 a year to qualified students, with the right balance of support, personal responsibility and incentive. For the Questa Scholars program, graduates who make loan payments on time and remain in one of 11 northeast Indiana counties for five years after graduation will have half of their loan forgiven. Scholars from regional partner schools are eligible for another 25 percent loan reduction after five years.

But the financial assistance isn't a grant - it's a loan that must be repaid, at least in part.

"Our program satisfies Hoosier values in that it requires some skin in the game," Levy said.
His current push is to convince more businesses to become Questa partners and support loan forgiveness programs targeted to their own needs. Fort Wayne-based Brooks Construction supports a loan program for a traditional student to pursue a degree in civil engineering at a Questa partner school. A similar program could help a manufacturing employee, for example, return to college to finish a degree program and move into management.

"It's a triple win," Levy said of an employers' investment. "An individual gets a better job, the employer gets to retain the talent, and the community gets a more thriving economy with a better-paid employee and taxpayer."

The Workforce Ready Grants announced by the governor last week - worth $20 million over the next two years - are likely to be effective in meeting short-term employer needs. But rather than creating more grant-funded job-training programs, Holcomb and other policymakers can help Hoosiers long term by investing in programs that have proven themselves at the community level - programs like Questa.

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