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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Workforce

July 2018


What research or resources are available on loan-forgiveness programs for teachers? Is there a relationship between loan-forgiveness programs and teacher retention?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for journal articles and research reports on loan forgiveness and teacher retention. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Feng, L., & Sass, T. R. (2015). Financial incentives to promote teacher recruitment and retention: An analysis of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Staffing problems are pervasive in certain subject areas, such as secondary math and science and special education, where the combination of training requirements and relatively high alternative wages makes it difficult to attract and retain high-quality teachers. This project evaluated the impacts of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program (FCTSP) and Teacher Recruitment and Retention Fund (TRRF) on the supply of new teachers and the retention of teachers in high-need areas such as special education, math, and science. The research: (1) addressed specific research questions pertaining to three programs (loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement, and recruitment/retention bonuses); (2) investigated the causal effects of the programs; and (3) addressed questions related to the general characteristics of the program and participating teachers. The authors’ initial descriptive analysis indicated that FCTSP teachers tend to be of lower quality (as measured by value-added) than non-participants. They also tend to be less experienced and teach more challenging (lower achieving, less well-behaved) students. Analysis of mobility patterns revealed that participants are more likely to switch schools than non-participants. However, participants are also less likely to exit public school teaching. The authors concluded that, while their preliminary analysis revealed some interesting patterns, much work remains to be done and that future work will include an analysis of the effects of recruitment and retention bonuses.”

Feng, L., & Sass, T. R. (2018). The impact of incentives to recruit and retain teachers in “hard-to-staff” subjects. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 37(1), 112–135. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We investigate the effects of a statewide program designed to increase the supply of teachers in designated ‘hard-to-staff’ areas, such as special education, math, and science. Employing a difference-in-difference estimator we find that the loan forgiveness component of the program was effective, reducing mean attrition rates for middle and high school math and science teachers by 10.4 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively. We also find that the impact of loan forgiveness varied with the generosity of payments; when fully funded, the program reduced attrition of special education teachers by 12.3 percent, but did not have a statistically significant impact when funding was substantially reduced. A triple-difference estimate indicates that a one-time bonus program also had large effects, reducing the likelihood of teachers’ exit by as much as 32 percent in the short run. A back-of-the-envelope cost-benefit analysis suggests that both the loan forgiveness and the bonus program were cost effective.”

Jacobson, L. (2006, September 20). Teacher-pay incentives popular but unproven. Education Week, 26(5), 1. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The author discusses different state proposals to offer more-competitive salaries for teachers. A 2005 review by the Education Commission of the States found that at least 30 states offer such incentives—which can include housing benefits, loan forgiveness, and scholarships, as well as yearly bonuses and salary increases—to address teacher shortages in certain subjects and geographical areas. Incentives are offered by 17 states specifically for teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools. Specific examples of incentives that states offer to lure teachers into hard-to-staff schools are also provided.”

Liou, P.-Y., & Lawrenz, F. (2011). Optimizing teacher preparation loan forgiveness programs: Variables related to perceived influence. Science Education, 95(1), 121–144. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This research used multilevel modeling to investigate the perceived effect of a teacher preparation loan forgiveness program on recruiting science and mathematics majors to become teachers and teach in high-need schools. The study investigated how and which personal perceptions, characteristics, and teacher preparation program variables influenced recipient perceptions. Data used for the study were collected from participants in the National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides funding for highly qualified science and mathematics majors to teach in high-need schools. Recipients agree to teach in high-need schools for at least 2 years in return for each year of funding. The results suggest that scholars’ race, their path into teaching, their perceptions of their preparation for teaching in high-need schools, and the amount of funding were significant variables.”

Maranto, R., & Shuls, J. V. (2012). How do we get them on the farm? Efforts to improve rural teacher recruitment and retention in Arkansas. Rural Educator, 34(1). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Rural schools, particularly high poverty rural schools, often have difficulty hiring and retaining qualified teachers. Here, we discuss three programs the Arkansas Department of Education has used to attract teachers to teacher Geographic Shortage Districts (GSDs) through material incentives. Unfortunately, none of the programs have had much success, perhaps in part since the funding offered was inadequate to attract new teachers to isolated communities. Additionally, we analyze the use of materialistic and non-materialistic incentives on the websites of all school districts designated as GSDs by the Arkansas Department of Education. Few GSDs display non-materialistic appeals that might entice individuals to seek out employment in the district, with the notable exception of KIPP Delta, the only charter school on the list, which has much more success recruiting teachers. We end with suggestions for policymakers and school district officials seeking to attract teachers to geographic shortage areas.”

Milanowski, A. T., Longwell-Grice, H., Saffold, F., Jones, J., Schomisch, K., & Odden, A. (2009). Recruiting new teachers to urban school districts: What incentives will work?. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 4(8), 1–13. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Many urban districts in the United States have difficulty attracting and retaining quality teachers, yet they are often the most in need of them. In response, U.S. states and districts are experimenting with financial incentives to attract and retain high-quality teachers in high-need, low-achieving, or hard-to-staff urban schools. However, relatively little is known about how effective financial incentives are to recruit new teachers to high-need urban schools. This research explores factors that are important to the job choices of teachers in training. Focus groups were held with students at three universities, and a policy-capturing study was done using 64 job scenarios representing various levels of pay and working conditions. Focus group results suggested that: a) many pre-service teachers, even relatively late in their preparation, are not committed to a particular district and are willing to consider many possibilities, including high need schools; b) although pay and benefits were attractive to the students, loan forgiveness and subsidies for further education were also attractive; and c) small increments of additional salary did not appear as important or attractive as other job characteristics. The policy-capturing study showed that working conditions factors, especially principal support, had more influence on simulated job choice than pay level, implying that money might be better spent to attract, retain, or train better principals than to provide higher beginning salaries to teachers in schools with high-poverty or a high proportion of students of color.”

Podolsky, A., & Kini, T. (2016). How effective are loan forgiveness and service scholarships for recruiting teachers? (Policy Brief). Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

From the abstract: “Recruiting and retaining talented individuals into the teaching workforce, especially in schools in underserved urban and rural communities, is challenging when college graduates face more lucrative professional alternatives and often carry significant student debt. Two promising approaches to attracting and keeping teachers in the profession are to offer loan forgiveness or service scholarships to prospective teachers—similar to what the medical profession has used to attract practitioners into underserved communities. Existing research on teacher and physician loan forgiveness and service scholarship programs suggests that, when the financial benefit meaningfully offsets the cost of professional preparation, these programs can successfully recruit and retain high-quality professionals into fields and communities where they are most needed.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “teacher retention” “loan forgiveness”

  • descriptor: “teacher persistence” “loan forgiveness”

  • descriptor: “teacher persistence” “financial incentives”

  • descriptor: “teacher persistence” “tuition reimbursement”

  • descriptor: “teacher persistence” “recruitment bonus”

  • descriptor: “teacher persistence” “retention bonus”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.