Helping college graduates repay their student loans could be an answer to slowing the loss of population from Connecticut and to increasing the state’s tax revenue, according to State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, ranking member on the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee .
“We’ve continually invested in the brick and mortar of our state institutions, it’s time we support the brains and bodies of the people that are utilizing the buildings,” Witkos said in an interview with CT Examiner.
The legislation, called “Learn-Work-Pay,” would help any Connecticut resident who attends one of the state’s public universities and then remains in Connecticut after graduation to repay their student loans. For the ten years following graduation the state would agree to pay a growing share of borrowed amount, starting at 10 percent and ending with 90 percent.
“By then people who graduate will be living in our state for ten years, contributing to the tax base and will likely remain in the state to raise their family for years to come,” Witkos said.
In the latest census, Connecticut was one of just 10 states to lose population over the preceding decade.
In a previous effort, in 2019 the legislature attempted to coax more young people to stay in the state by offering a tax credit for graduates of institutions of higher education and private occupational schools within the state. But Witkos said that tax credits just don’t resonate the same with college graduates as hard dollars.
Unlike the tax credits, the Learn-Work-Pay program would take on the issue of student debt directly and offer graduates a real incentive, said Witkos.
“The driving force behind the bill is to keep people in Connecticut, but we are hoping to alleviate the problem of debt so many young people face,” Witkos said.
The bill already has strong bipartisan support, but faces a challenge from private colleges and universities that are pushing to be included.
“Private and independent schools are asking, ‘why are they excluded?’ But it’s not a matter of exclusion it’s a matter of success,” Witkos said. “We can’t bite off more than we can chew so we should start off slow with the schools the state pays for. We can always expand it to higher degrees and private schools later.”
The program would be funded through a general fund appropriation. The Office of Fiscal Analysis is currently estimating the cost.