"Loan Forgiveness Program"
Loan Cancellation Program for Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors The 1992 amendments of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies to develop standards for qualified rehabilitation personnel, including the vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC). State VR agency standards must be consistent with any national or state-approved or recognized certification, licensing, or registration. Some state VR agencies have established standards consistent with their state’s rehabilitation counselor licensure requirements, while others have used the national Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification (CRCC) standard. Other state agencies use a certification or registration standard that does not require a master’s degree. In general state vocational rehabilitation counselor licensure and the CRCC standards require a Master’s degree with a focus on rehabilitation counseling. Qualified vocational rehabilitation counselors must have advanced knowledge, skills and abilities to assist persons with disabilities to increase their level of independence, decrease barriers to employment and improve their overall quality of life. While a qualified VRC is required to adequately address the needs of persons with disabilities, recent national surveys have found significant public sector challenges in the recruitment and retention of qualified VRCs including: 1. Lower wages of vocational rehabilitation counselors in the public sector 2. Recruitment competition from private and federal agencies. 3. High public sector retirement rates for VRC professionals 4. Insufficient supply of qualified master’s degreed vocational rehabilitation counseling graduates to meet the national public sector hiring demand. Staff hired below the qualified VRC standard require additional formal academic courses and increased supervision to raise their skills and knowledge to the level of a fully qualified VRC. Training to achieve the standard is a cost and time expensive that redirects a public agency’s limited financial and human resources from services to persons with disabilities. Proposal for a Loan Cancellation Program for Qualified VR Counselors Federal loan cancellation programs are an effective tool to recruit and retain professional staff in public sector demand areas such as teaching, firefighting, and law enforcement. As with these other important public service professions, the Council for State Administrators in Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) proposes a loan cancellation option that offers qualified vocational rehabilitation counselors employed in a state rehabilitation agency the opportunity to cancel up to 100% of their outstanding accrued graduate and undergraduate Federal Perkins, FFEL, or NDSL student loans over a 5-year period of VR public sector employment. Cancellation rates are: 15% of the original principal loan amount, plus the interest on the unpaid balance accruing during the year of qualifying service, for each of the first and second years of full-time employment. 20% of the original principal loan amount, plus the interest and the interest on the unpaid balance accruing during the year of qualifying service, for each of the third and fourth years of full-time employment. 30% of the original principal loan amount, plus the interest on the unpaid balance accruing during the year of qualifying service, for the fifth year of full-time employment. CSAVR believes a loan cancellation option is necessary, justified and reasonable because it supports fully qualified VRC services to persons with disabilities, and will have an immediate positive impact on the recruitment and retention of fully qualified VRC staff in the VR public sector agencies, and on the number of individuals attracted to the VRC profession and training programs.