Kansas Board of Regents to study student debt forgiveness program for graduates who stay in Kansas

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

The University of Kansas campus is pictured Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

The Kansas Board of Regents is moving forward with a recommendation to study possibilities for a debt forgiveness program that aims to keep graduates of Kansas universities and colleges from leaving the state.

The board discussed the recommendation as part of its meeting Thursday, where Blake Flanders, president and chief executive officer of the board, said the plan is to gather data on the financing of such a program and to develop a list of possible pilot careers. Flanders said such programs are more complex than they may seem, because there must be systems in place to determine whether graduates are meeting requirements.

“There is an infrastructure that has to follow that up, and it takes quite a bit of follow-up to make sure that people are in Kansas and whether or not they get their debt forgiven,” Flanders said. “And so we want to be judicious as we move forward and really look at careers that might make sense.”

For example, Flanders said it’s relatively easy to determine if a medical doctor, teacher or other licensed professional is working in Kansas, but other professions might be more difficult or harder to determine whether the graduate is working in their field of study. He said the team would be looking at which careers would be the best fit for such a program.

Specifically, the recommendation calls for analyzing mechanisms by which student debt relief can be used as an incentive to keep graduates of Kansas colleges and universities in the state after graduation.

The recommendation to study ways to create a debt forgiveness program was one of 14 recommendations previously adopted by the Future of Higher Education Council, which the board established earlier this year, according to the board’s agenda. The council was charged with analyzing affiliations and partnerships in the KBOR system to enhance the delivery of higher education to Kansans and with ensuring alignment of facility and infrastructure capacity with projected enrollments. Recommendations fell into three categories: access and success, equity and social mobility, and the structure of the higher education system.

The recommendation regarding the debt forgiveness program was one of five recommendations from the list that Flanders said the Kansas Board of Regents had already begun work on, and work on the others would follow. The full list of recommendations is available as part of the board’s agenda packet.

In other business, the board voted to continue to suspend a board policy that does not allow university students to enroll in classes if they owe back tuition and fees. The policy was previously suspended due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the state universities requested the suspension be extended for the spring semester as well.

The board also voted to approve the allocation of an additional $2.5 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to community colleges. Flanders said he expected universities to receive some additional funding as well, but details weren’t known Thursday. Since the funds must be allocated before the end of the year, the board gave Flanders and Board Chair Bill Feuerborn the authority to make that decision.

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