With more than 40 million Americans saddled with college tuition debt totaling a staggering $1.12 trillion, the federal government has boosted incentives to help workers pay off their loans as a means of attracting and keeping talented young people.
Last year alone, 33 federal departments and agencies provided about 8,500 federal workers with $58.7 million in benefits to help retire the interest and principle on their student loans — or an average of $6,900 per employee, according to a new government study first reported by The Washington Post.
That represents a 15 percent increase over calendar 2013 in the number of employees taking part in the program and an 11 percent increase in the total amount of spending. The benefit is made available to young workers who agree to stay with the government for at least three years after qualifying for the program.
The federal government has a number of ways of recruiting and hanging onto valued workers, including special incentive pay, promotions and relocation benefits for those who want to move to a different city. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Inspector General in September disclosed that two senior VA officials had chiseled the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of relocation benefits in moving to new cities.
The Obama administration has grown increasingly concerned about the bureaucracy’s ability to recruit and hold onto highly skilled young employees, particularly in high-demand occupations such as cybersecurity and other highly technical or scientific areas, as the Post noted.
“Closing the skills gap in the STEM workforce is a key component in our efforts to deliver on the core mission of OPM: to recruit and retain a world-class workforce to serve the American people,” the report by the Office of Personnel Management states.
Under the incentive policy, departments and independent agencies can pay employees up to $10,000 per year and up to $60,000 over their lifetime to pay off certain educational loans, provided the employee pledges to continue working for the government for at least three additional years.
The incentive program for employees saddled with large college debt has been around for a while, although payments had been declining steadily every year since peaking in 2010. That’s when $85.7 million was paid out to nearly 11,400 employees, or an average of roughly $7,100.