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Student loan repayment program in rural areas has been popular, official says

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Topeka — A program aimed at getting college graduates to settle in rural areas of Kansas has been popular, a state official said Monday.

Chris Harris, a program manager with the Kansas Department of Commerce, briefed members of the Senate Commerce Committee, on a program that offers up to $15,000 in student loan repayment of qualified individuals. . Since the program was launched July 1, 2011, there have been 686 applications from 37 states. Of those, 374 applications have been approved, and $376,418 has been paid out.

"For many of them this was the deciding factor," Harris said of the program. "This made it more attractive to live in rural Kansas," he said.

The proposal was part of an initiative pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback called Rural Opportunity Zones. It includes another incentive, which is a waiver of state income tax for up to five years for someone who has lived outside the state for five years.

Harris said it is too early to tell how that is working because the first year of the waiver is for tax year 2012, which people are claiming now.

The tax waiver was established in 50 counties, and counties could decide whether to participate in the student loan repayment, since counties had to provide half of the repayment. Most of the 50 counties are in western and southeast Kansas. Forty-six of the 50 counties are doing the student repayment program.

The top three fields of graduates whose applications were approved were education, 159; health care, 131; and agriculture, 55.

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