University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren announced today that the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education has raised $3.1 million thus far in its $10 million fundraising drive for scholarships, the focal point of which is a Debt Forgiveness Program for new teachers.
The college’s new Debt Forgiveness Program will help address the challenge facing half of OU’s teaching graduates, who leave with as much as $21,000 in education loan debt. The average starting teacher’s salary in Oklahoma is $31,000, which means that some graduates never catch up with their debt and later leave the teaching profession for more lucrative fields.
Under the program, education graduates who enter such high-need areas as science, mathematics, world languages, special education or early childhood education can apply for up to $5,000 of debt forgiveness each year for four years, capping at $20,000.
“This innovative new initiative for ‘debt-free teachers’ will help keep talented newly graduated teachers in our state,” Boren said.
Recipients are asked to stay in the teaching profession for a minimum of four years, which is an important statistic threshold, said Education Dean Gregg Garn. Research shows that teachers who remain in the field beyond three years have a much greater chance of becoming lifelong education professionals.
The idea for the effort came when Garn learned a good friend in the medical profession was leaving Oklahoma to take a job at an out-of-state rural Indian Health Services clinic that offered a similar debt forgiveness program.
“It really got me thinking about how we might adapt this to get teachers to stay in Oklahoma,” Garn said, explaining that Oklahoma often loses its best young educators to other states paying more competitive salaries. Also, OU students who might have a vocation for teaching often enter other degree programs due to fears about debt and earning potential.
The program may be the first of its kind among the nation’s colleges of education, Garn said. The campaign for the Debt Forgiveness Program already is attracting several lead gifts.
Donors are encouraged by the fact that their monies will be invested in someone who has already graduated college and is committed to helping Oklahoma schoolchildren in some of our state’s greatest areas of need.
“Everyone we have talked to has said, ‘This is a great idea,’ Garn said. “We can really fill some important workforce development needs in this state.”