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Friday, November 10, 2017

NOTES FROM THE SENATE, NOVEMBER 10, 2017

LOAN FORGIVENESS AUDIT

While the HOPE program remains the bulk of state-funded student scholarships, loan forgiveness programs make up an important part of our financial aid landscape. Loan forgiveness is an incentive typically used to recruit and retain individuals to high-need occupations or geographic areas. Loan forgiveness programs either provide student loans during school which can be forgiven if a service obligation is met (in-school programs) or offer repayment towards existing student loan debt if the individual practices a profession in certain places or fields (on-the-job programs).

While not all programs were created with the intention of reducing a workforce shortage, a recent performance audit found that the programs that are intended to address workforce shortages are not always well targeted and their continued need is not routinely assessed with clear performance measures.

SPECIFIC FINDINGS: ON- THE- JOB PROGRAMS

The Georgia Board for Physicians Workforce (GBPW) administers on-the-job loan forgiveness programs for physicians, dentists, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses who agree to practice in underserved areas. In order to be eligible for the program, the medical professional must already live in the areas designated by GBPW as high-need. Depending upon their profession, program participants receive up to $25,000 of loan cancelation annually, which is generally capped at $100,000 total.

AUDIT FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The audit found that while shortages do exist in parts of Georgia for the medical fields targeted by the GBPW's loan repayment program, the metric for determining an eligible rural area used by GBPW (a population of under 35,000) is not necessarily the same as a high-need area. As a result, providers in some high-need counties are disqualified from the loan repayment program while those in some lower-need counties are eligible. The audit recommended reexamining the program's geographic and demographic requirements to ensure that program funds are targeted toward the highest-need rural areas.

IN SCHOOL SERVICE CANCELABLE LOANS

Georgia's six in-school loan forgiveness programs, which are administered by the Georgia Student Finance Authority, include three for National Guard service members, two for engineers, and one for public service employees. Three of the programs are institution-specific, while the other three are available to students at any eligible postsecondary institution.
Recipients of in-school program awards may repay loans with cash or service. For recipients who do complete their service obligation, the annual amount forgiven varies by program. Those who do not complete their service obligation must repay funds with interest. The interest rates vary by program and range from 1% to 8%.

SPECIFIC FINDINGS- MILITARY PROGRAMS

The state of Georgia funds three in-school military service cancelable loans (SCLs): The Georgia National Guard Service Cancelable Loan, the University of North Georgia Military Scholarship, and the Georgia Military College State Service Scholarship. These programs cover the full cost of attendance in exchange for a certain number of years of service in the Georgia National Guard.

AUDIT FINDINGS

The audit stated that while the military SCLs appear to positively impact the recruiting and retention of Georgia National Guard members, the purposes and intentions of the programs should be clarified in order to inform future funding and programmatic changes.

SPECIFIC FINDINGS- ENGINEERING AND PUBLIC SERVICE PROGRAMS

The Scholarship for Engineering Education (SEE) and the Scholarship for Engineering Education for Minorities Program (MSEE) were created to provide engineers for Georgia. SEE provides up to $17,500 in SCLs for students who are enrolled in Mercer University's School of Engineering, while MSEE provides up to $15,750 in SCLs for women or racial minorities majoring in an engineering field at any eligible postsecondary institution in Georgia.

The last program that was included in the audit was the Student Access Loan, a low-interest loan of last resort for Georgia students with unmet financial needs. Although it isn't a true service cancelable loan, it does have a service cancelation option for those who work in public service.

AUDIT FINDINGS

According to the audit, it is uncertain whether Georgia has a statewide shortage of engineers requiring loan forgiveness programs. While engineering has been identified as a high-demand occupation in Georgia, no agency has assessed whether a shortage exists.The audit also noted that SEE recipients may be more likely to work as engineers in Georgia; however, based on surveys, it appears that the majority of SEE recipients would likely have majored in engineering and stayed in Georgia even without the award.

To read the audit, visit https://www.audits.ga.gov/. To learn more about Service Cancelable Loans, visit https://gsfc.georgia.gov/

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