OKLAHOMA CITY - A proposed new student loan program could provide some answers for Oklahomans unable to afford a college education while at the same time foster job growth and economic development.
State Senator Gene Stipe (D-McAlester) has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session to provide tuition loans to state residents attending Oklahoma colleges and universities. Upon graduation and employment at specified companies, the borrower's state income tax would be credited against the borrower's loan obligation.
"There is plenty of talk at the State Capitol every year about developing better ways to encourage business development, higher salaries and greater educational opportunity," said Senator Stipe. "This proposed legislation will result in all three."
Senator Stipe is already working with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce Executive Director Leo Presley and the State Regents for Higher Education to create the method by which the Economic Development through Education Program would operate.
"If Oklahoma is to experience economic development in the future, we must continue on the aggressive path already established by our state's leaders," said Leo Presley. "We must continue to provide new opportunities in fields related to future business development."
The Stipe proposal calls on the Oklahoma Student Loan Authority to establish a "Tuition Loan Fund" consisting of moneys provided by the Legislature and loan obligation repayments. Eligible students must be an Oklahoma resident attending an institution within the State System of Higher Education.
To obtain the loan repayment credit, borrowers would be required to find employment with a company considered as a "basic industry" under Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Act. The borrower's state tax would be credited toward the repayment of the student loan.
"Not only are we offering a way for thousands of young people to attend college, we are ensuring the economic prosperity of Oklahoma's future," said Senator Stipe. "The Quality Jobs Act has led to the creation of thousands of jobs in Oklahoma. Imagine how many more companies will be attracted to the sooner state with the knowledge that our college students are preparing to work for them."
Oklahoma's per capita income continues to lag behind the national average. Senator Stipe's proposal cuts to the heart of the problem by providing for a better educated, and therefore better paid workforce.
The program would give borrowers up to a year to begin paying back their loans. The Department of Commerce would provide a list of "basic industry" companies to those in the program.
"The benefits to Oklahoma's citizens are obvious," added Mr. Presley. "A well-educated work force, making higher incomes in the employment of Oklahoma firms is wonderful, but the availability of a broad-based, educated labor pool would serve as a powerful incentive for businesses looking at Oklahoma as a place to expand or relocate."
The proposal would also give the State Regents greater authority to set tuition fees at state colleges and universities.