Issue Briefs

Following is the summary of a recent OPM report showing that after several years of decline, agencies in 2014 increased their use of student loan reimbursements as a recruiting and retention tool.

Overall for CY 2014, 33 Federal agencies provided 8,469 employees with a total of more than $58.7 million in student loan repayment benefits. Compared to CY 2013, this represents more than a 15 percent increase in the number of employees receiving student loan repayment benefits and an 11 percent increase in agencies’ overall financial investment in this particular incentive. The average student loan repayment benefit in CY 2014 was $6,937.

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During CY 2014, more than 79 percent of the cost of all student loan repayment benefits was provided by the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Similarly, nearly 75 percent of all student loan repayment recipients were employed by these five agencies. Overall, these five agencies provided 6,305 employees with more than $46.4 million in student loan repayment benefits. The other 28 agencies combined to provide 2,164 employees with just over $12.2 million in student loan repayment benefits.

OPM continues to support Federal agencies’ use of student loan repayment benefits to recruit and retain a world-class workforce to serve the American people. In addition, we strongly encourage agencies to establish metrics to demonstrate the value of using student loan repayments and other discretionary incentives. For example, tracking the retention rate of student loan repayment recipients over time and comparing it to the retention rate for employees who do not receive student loan repayment benefits can be useful in determining whether the incentive helps an agency to retain critical personnel. 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 will continue to work with agencies to assist them in using student loan repayments, as well as other flexibilities. OPM believes the judicious administration of these flexibilities attracts and retains a dynamic Federal workforce to support agency missions and program needs.

In CY 2014, the five agencies making the most extensive use of student loan repayments were the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. More than 74 percent of the total cost of all student loan repayment benefits were provided by these five agencies. Similarly, more than 79 percent of all student loan repayment recipients were employed by these five agencies. Overall, these five agencies provided 6,305 employees with more than $46.4 million in student loan repayment benefits. The other 28 agencies combined to provide 2,164 employees with just over $12.2 million in student loan repayment benefits.

The Department of Defense (DOD) used student loan repayment benefits extensively as an incentive for engineers and provided benefits to a total of 578 employees in engineering positions. Engineers who received the most student loan repayment benefits included Nuclear Engineers (226), Mechanical Engineers (98), and Electronics Engineers (67). DOD also provided student loan repayment benefits to 406 employees in GS-1102 contracting positions. Additionally, DOD provided student loan repayments to 221 employees in nursing positions. Employees in engineering, contracting, and nursing positions accounted for 68 percent of the DOD employees who received student loan repayment benefits during CY 2014.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) increased its usage of student loan repayments during CY 2014. The top two DOJ recipient occupations were Special Agents (558) and Intelligence Analysts (232). These two occupations accounted for over 45 percent of DOJ’s total student loan repayment recipients during CY 2014.

The Department of State (DOS) continued its use of student loan repayments in CY 2014, providing more than $11.1 million in student loan repayment benefits to 1,415 employees. Of the CY 2014 recipients, 713 were in civil service positions and 702 were members of the Foreign Service. DOS offered a lump-sum payment of $8,000 or the outstanding loan amount if it was less than $8,000 and greater than $5,000. An eligible DOS employee must have a loan balance of $5,000 or greater in order to receive student loan repayments. DOS provided the most student loan repayments to employees in the civil service positions of Foreign Affairs (244), Passport and Visa Examiner (110), and Management and Program Analysis (109), and members of the Foreign Service serving in Political Affairs (119), Public Diplomacy (116), and Economics (97) positions.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provided 675 employees with more than $6.1 million in student loan repayment benefits during CY 2014. As in the past, SEC made the vast majority (74.88 percent) of its student loan repayments on behalf of employees in its mission critical occupations of Attorney-Advisor (371), Accountant (89), and Securities Compliance Examiner (32).

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided 713 employees with over $4.1 million in student loan repayment benefits during CY 2014. When compared to CY 2013, this represents a 27 percent increase in recipients and a 50 percent increase in the amount disbursed. VA provided student loan repayment benefits to employees in a variety of occupations, including Contract Specialists (116), Human Resources Specialists (106), Pharmacists (77), and Psychologists (56). In its report, VA also noted its separate student loan repayment authority under section 7681 of title 38, United States Code. The VA Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) allows VA facilities to recruit and retain highly qualified healthcare personnel.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided more than $3.7 million in student loan repayment benefits to 440 employees during CY 2014. HHS noted that this was a minor increase when compared to CY 2013.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) provided student loan repayment benefits totaling more than $1.1 million to 395 employees during CY 2014. The majority (66 percent) of recipients were GAO Analysts (264).

The Department of the Interior (DOI) continued its use of student loan repayments during CY 2014 by providing more than $1.3 million in benefits to 212 employees. DOI provided the most student loan repayments to employees in engineering positions (87).7

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided student loan repayment benefits totaling more than $1.2 million to 487 employees during CY 2014. HUD provided no student loan repayments during CY 2013.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided student loan repayment benefits totaling more than $1.2 million to 487 employees during CY 2014. HUD provided no student loan repayments during CY 2013.

Additional Agencies. The Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, and Treasury, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission invested more than $300,000 in their student loan repayment programs.