As student loan debt continues to climb, preventing recent college graduates from buying homes or starting families, states are seeing an opportunity to lure new residents by offering student loan relief for those who relocate, The Wall Street Journal reports. In the last four years, 18 states have passed 23 laws launching or expanding student loan forgiveness programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Many states are using loan forgiveness to address workforce gaps, often linking the programs to certain professions—for instance mental health, farming, veterinary medicine, or teaching. Such programs are especially beneficial to “rural and non-coastal states that have trouble attracting young college graduates,” Carl Van Horn, an economist with Rutgers University, told the The Journal. He also pointed out that states find these programs more appealing than cash incentives because college graduates are more likely to stay with the promise of a longer-term benefit.
However, some critics of the student loan-forgiveness programs believe that the policies don’t go far enough to help lower-income graduates saddled with debt, noting that America’s highest earners also happen to hold half of all student debt. “This is clearly a way to potentially pander to middle- and upper-class voters,” says Tamara Hiler, deputy director of education policy at education nonprofit Third Way. “At the end of the day, it’s not a progressive policy.” Still, the policies appear to have momentum: The Journal reports that 36 states have 145 bills pending that would expand loan-repayment programs.