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UW-Platteville Hopes To Boost Rural Teaching Workforce Through Loan Reimbursement

Education Leaders Expect New Assistance Program Will Attract More People To Teaching, Jobs In Rural Districts

A blue sign reading "University of Wisconsin-Platteville" stands on the schools' campus.
A sign on UW-Platteville’s campus. Miranda Suarez/WPR

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville is launching a new loan repayment assistance program this fall to help address a shortage of K-12 teachers in Wisconsin’s rural communities.

The university’s School of Education plans to reimburse graduates for part or all of their student loan payments if their teacher salary is below $48,000.

The payments are on a sliding scale, with those making $20,000 or less receiving 100 percent reimbursement for every payment they make on their loans. The assistance will continue until the graduate’s income exceeds $48,000 or their student loans are paid back.

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The program is being offered to incoming freshmen studying to teach in elementary and middle schools. Students already in the program are not eligible.

Jen Collins, director of the School of Education, said students have to start and finish school with the major to qualify. She said the university wanted to help remove one of the barriers for graduates who may want to teach in rural communities.

“We know that sometimes when teachers are making decisions about where they’re going to get that first job or where they’re going to work after they graduate, sometimes that paycheck does come into play,” Collins said. “If we have an opportunity to help them make a choice to stay in a rural community, maybe take a little bit lower salary knowing that they’re going to get some of those student loans repaid, and we can be part of that, that’s one of impetuses for us.”

Collins said the average UW-Platteville student graduates with around $31,000 in student loan debt.

UW-Platteville already has a connection with rural school districts; around 80 percent of the School of Education’s graduates teaching in rural communities, she said.

Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said the state’s school districts have seen a decline in teacher workforce over the last decade.

“I think there’s a lot of young people who wanted to become teachers but because of the low salaries and seeing what they could possibly make out in the private sector, it kind of lured them away from education even though their heart was in it,” Kaukl said.

He said UW-Platteville’s new loan reimbursement could help more high school students see teaching as a viable career option.

Collins said the school usually has around 40 students start the elementary and middle education program each fall. The program has had about 60 graduates in the last five years. UW-Platteville is hoping the new loan program will help recruit more students, so the university hasn’t put a cap on how many people can enroll in the reimbursement program, she said.

“I’ve gotten several calls from parents who have said, ‘Is this too good to be true? What’s the catch with this?’” Collins said. “So this might help (students) make a decision to go into teaching, but also bring them here to the campus.”

With UW-Platteville providing the funding for the new program, Collins said the university leadership is hoping to attract enough new students that the loan assistance program will “pay for itself.”

She said UW-Platteville is the first public university in the country to offer this kind of reimbursement program.