ROZ program benefits students from rural areas

Matthew L. Self

For students living in rural Kansas and who are having trouble paying off students loans, the Kansas Department of Commerce may be able to help. The Department of Commerce in Topeka has a special offer for college graduates called the Rural Opportunity Zone Program.

It is designed for college graduates who are having trouble paying off their student loan debt and who have a love for a rural lifestyle by offering up to $15,000 dollars to those who apply and meet all the qualifications of the program. The ROZ program can be a great opportunity to begin paying off college debt which often weighs heavily on college graduates once they complete their majors. Applicants must meet two qualifications to be able to apply for the program. They need to move to and establish domicile in a Kansas ROZ designated county after they graduate and have a student loan balance. To obtain the full benefit of the $15,000 you must stay in the same ROZ county for five years. It would be $3,000 per year for five years.

A total of 77 counties in Kansas are members of the ROZ program. Applicants will need to verify that their county is a part of the program before applying to spare them from future disappointment. If a county is part of the ROZ program they may provide partnership funding or Sponsorship to participants, an employer may also act as a sponsor for an applicant. To check if a county is part of the ROZ program, interested students can look up the ROZ map on the Department of Commerce’s website, contact their county clerk, the local Economic Development Office, or contact one of the program managers directly. Their contact information is located on the ROZ program’s website. http://www.kansascommerce.gov/roz

Rachell Rowand, the program manager of the ROZ program, spoke about how the ROZ program worked to bring more people in to rural areas in Kansas to help boost the local economy.

“The program is not your normal economic development plan. Normal economic development is that you bring in jobs and jobs bring in the people. Well we have very little people and lots of jobs. So in the rural areas we’re trying to bring more people in to help develop those areas and develop the economy in a backwards fashion.”

Heather Pierson, an administrative assistant for the ROZ program, spoke about the benefits of the program and how much she enjoyed helping expand the growth of communities in rural Kansas.

“I do enjoy speaking to applicants over the phone. I’ve met some very nice people and I’ve built some five year communication relationships with many of the participants by helping them through the payment process and updating their information each year,” said Mrs. Pierson. “This program does a great job in enticing people to low-populated cities to help grow the communities there through its student loan repayment plan.”

Finding an acceptable county for the program is the first step but certainly not the last. Applicants who apply to the program are often informed that the program has a rather long waiting list and will need to be patient as some counties do not have the funds necessary for the program at the ready for every new applicant of the program. Once an applicant has been accepted into the program they must continue to meet the requirement of having domicile in the ROZ county, one of the biggest parts of the application process is providing evidence of previous addresses to the program. So, make sure you keep copies of lease agreements and update your State ID’s address each time you move to make the process smoother. Applicants must also provide proof of an outstanding student loan balance with distribution dates and a copy of their transcript to prove that they graduated from college and that the loans were taken out while attending college.

Once an applicant has been accepted into the program they must provide several documents to the program’s managers for review such as a valid form of ID (A current driver’s license or passport), proof of previous addresses five years prior to moving to the ROZ county, proof of address within the ROZ county, student transcripts with a graduation date, proof of student loan balance with the distribution dates, a W-9 form, a participant agreement form, a direct deposit form, a voided check or deposit slip and a Kansas tax clearance certificate.

Students who are interested in the program are encouraged to apply next year after Jan. 1 provided they meet all of the requirements of the program.