The OPM report on student loan reimbursements cited feedback from several agencies stating that the incentives help them attract and retain highly-qualified employees who might otherwise leave for higher salaries in comparable jobs or move to areas with a lower cost of living.

By occupation, these most commonly are in engineering, contracting, nursing and certain other medical-related fields, special agents, foreign affairs, attorney-advisers, accountants, HR, health science and various types of analysts.

Best practices in administering the program, it said, include support from senior management, establishment of mission-critical occupational series to use as the basis for decisions, keeping employees informed of the program’s requirements, and automating the application and approval process.

OPM recommended that agencies establish metrics to measure the incentives’ value, such as tracking retention rates of recipients over time and comparing it to those who did not receive the benefit. “Also, agencies can use survey data to measure the satisfaction of both job candidates and hiring managers with the availability of human resources flexibilities such as student loan repayment benefits,” OPM said.

The most common barriers to greater use, it added, are lack of funding, resistance by potential recipients to the three-year service requirement that accompanies a payment, and, at some agencies, low rates of hiring and lack of difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees, making such incentives unneeded.