Rural Opportunity Zones student-loan repayment program is helping save small communities in rural America.
Last spring, Lee Waldron got a call from his mother-in-law, saying, "You've got to look into this Rural Opportunity Zone thing."
At the time, Waldron was living in Reedley, CA, about 100 miles north of Bakersfield, with his wife Sara Jo and one-year-old daughter Lydia Jane. Waldron was saddled with $30,000 in student-loan debt from his four years at Tabor College, a Christian school in Hillsboro, KS. Given his income and the obligation to pay the minimum amount due each month on his student loan, it seemed inconceivable he would ever be able to afford to buy a home.
But the Rural Opportunity Zones program offered a way out. Under this plan in 50 rural Kansas counties, the state repays student loans over five years for people who move into these areas. The maximum benefit during that time is $15,000, so Waldron would still be responsible for half of his debt -- but that was much more manageable. “It was a weight off my mind,” he says.
The burden got even lighter when Waldron was able to secure a job as Tabor's director of enrollment operations. Now, he and his family have moved to Hillsboro and bought a home. His wife’s family lives nearby, and the pace of the community -- with its tiny main street, four restaurants (only one serving liquor), and 10 churches -- suits the Waldrons better than that of the West Coast.
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