Wavemaker student loan reimbursement program sees applications swell

Latest round includes health care workers for the first time

By: - October 19, 2023 5:03 pm

State officials gathered to celebrate the new class of recent college graduates accepted into the Wavemaker Fellowship program at an event on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. (Courtesy Gov. Dan McKee’s office)

Demand for the state’s student loan reimbursement program appears to be surging once again, with more than triple the applicants for the most recent Wavemaker Fellowship class.

A total of 483 recent college graduates applied for up to $6,000 a year to pay off student loans, with just over 50% accepted into the 2023 cohort announced by Gov. Dan McKee earlier this week. The once-competitive student loan program waned amid temporary federal student loan forbearance and forgiveness programs during the pandemic, with just 144 applications received for the prior, 2022 year class.

Started under former Gov. Gina M. Raimondo to reduce the “brain drain,” the program offers annual tax credits of $1,000 to $6,000 for up to four years to college graduates who stay and work in the state. The latest round of participants will receive a combined $2.6 million in student loan reimbursements over the course of the program, according to Matt Touchette, a spokesperson for Rhode Island Commerce Corp., which runs the program.

The resurgence comes in part thanks to expanded eligibility. The program originally focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and commercial design, but was opened to health care workers under the state’s fiscal 2023 budget.  Just over half of the applications received – 265 – were from eligible health care workers, with the remainder from those in the STEM and design fields, according to Touchette.

The Wavemaker Fellowship is a key part of our strategy to ease the burden of student loan debt in Rhode Island, while helping the state retain skilled talent,” McKee said in a statement. “For the first time, we are recognizing our amazing healthcare workers, a sector critical to the success of Rhode Island’s economy, as a part of this program.”

The program will expand again next year to include teachers, with an extra $800,000 set aside in the state’s fiscal 2024 budget to pay for the expected increase in demand from broader eligibility.

Applications were reviewed by a committee of officials and community members based on criteria including their careers in “key” industries and the impact of their decision to stay and work in Rhode Island. 

“Supporting our healthcare workforce is a key part of our mission to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to high quality health services,” Richard Charest, secretary of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health & Human Services, said in a statement. “The Wavemaker Healthcare Fellowships will help workers pay off burdensome career-related debt while easing the State’s healthcare workforce shortages. This will provide opportunities so our healthcare graduates can focus on building their careers and caring for Rhode Islanders.”

Since its inception, the Wavemaker Fellowship has awarded tax credits for student loan repayment to 1,400 recent college graduates, with an average award of $4,600 per person per year.


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.