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Topeka Mayor McClinton, University of Kansas Create Unique Partnership in Loan Forgiveness Program

March 7, 2005

Like many other U.S cities trying to attract and retain young talent to help with workforce needs, Topeka, capital of Kansas, came up with a unique idea. In December, 2004, Topeka Mayor James A. McClinton joined forces with the University of Kansas to announce a loan forgiveness program for Kansas University graduates who return to work in the city's "high need" areas. McClinton and University of Kansas Chancellor Robert E. Hemenway signed an agreement creating the Advantage Topeka Loan Program.

The program will provide up to $5,000 in loans per student. It establishes a loan forgiveness program for certain students from Topeka who return to work in the city after graduation from Kansas University located in Lawrence, Kansas. The loan will be matched dollar-for-dollar by other types of financial assistance, including scholarships, grants and other loans, from the KU Endowment Association. "This is a win-win situation for both KU and Topeka," Hemenway said. "KU students receive financial aid to pay for world class education, and Topeka receives skilled graduates to provide needed expertise in high demand occupations. "I am pleased that when Topeka needed to recruit graduates for its workforce, they turned to KU for help," he added.

McClinton said Topeka's economic future is dependent on bringing skilled workers to several areas of need in the city. "The Advantage Topeka Program will help us in terms of economic development and improving our quality of life," he said. "The University of Kansas is providing invaluable help in our city."

To be eligible, students must be enrolled in at least six hours of classes and be making satisfactory academic progress toward degrees in disciplines deemed by Topeka as "occupational areas of high demand." Initially, the areas of high demand are in construction, transportation, installation, maintenance, repair computers, engineering, architecture and health care. In, addition, eligible students must be residents of Topeka and graduates of a Shawnee County high school. The city administrator or city manager will determine who meets the requirements of the program. There were more than 1,200 students attending KU from the Shawnee County in the fall of 2004 semester.

Qualified students are eligible for up to $2,500 in loans per academic year, and $5,000 maximum from the program. Once students graduate, they have a year to find employment in Topeka, either in the public or private sector. If they find employment in one of the designated areas of need, Topeka will forgive one year of loans for each year the graduate remains employed.

The Program

Once about $30,000 has been raised, the program will begin awarding forgivable loans to Shawnee County high school graduates who receive degrees from The University of Kansas and return to work in a "high-need" field in Topeka.

John Scarffe, director of communications for the KU Endowment Association, said the funds could be endowed — and students could begin reaping its benefits — once it contains about $30,000. The interest earned from the endowment would be used to help pay the qualified students' loans. The endowment association will match the loan for dollar-for-dollar.

The city will chip in by offering a 50 percent property tax credit to contributors. For every $1 contributed, the city will rebate 50 cents. City Councilman Clark Duffy, who initiated discussions about the KU partnership, said the city has set aside up to $250,00 annually to pay the rebates.

Hemenway said the university had never received such a proposal and suggested the KU-Topeka partnership could be a model for other cities. "This is one of those classic win-win situations where everybody comes together to create something the student is going to be the primary beneficiary," he said.

McClinton said he hoped similar arrangements could be worked out with other area schools, such as Kansas State University and Washburn University. "There's a competitive world out there for students and they have a lot of options, and so we want to make sure we are competitive, too," McClinton said. " We want them to look Topeka."

McClinton's allegiance to Kansas University was forged when he received a Master Degree in Public Administration from KU with a concentration on state and local government. He graduated with honors in the master program.

During 13 years prior to becoming Mayor in December 2003, an honor given buy his peers on the Topeka city council, McClinton served the Senate of Kansas in various leadership positions. He was first elected to the city council in 1991 and in 1997 was elected to a four-year term.

His prior experience includes services on the Mayor's Crime Commission, and three years on the Mayors Affordable Housing Commission. He also spent eight years working with community development issues particularly with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) process. He is currently serving as Topeka's first African American mayor until the next election in April, 2005.

An active Conference of Mayors member, McClinton serves on two committees: Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports and also Community Development and Housing.