Questa Scholars Program, a local college loan forgiveness program, has provided about $7 million in forgivable loans to help 1,000 students since 2007.
Leah Schroeder, who graduates this year with a bachelor's degree in education from Purdue University Fort Wayne, is one of them.
Schroeder will stay in Fort Wayne and is happy to do so, she said. Her dream of teaching high school biology and chemistry in northeast Indiana matches the primary goal of Questa to keep talent here.
“Regional talent retention was the goal,” said Trois Hart, who helped create the Questa Education Foundation out of the Fort Wayne Education Foundation. The latter provided gap or emergency funding for students who needed money for expenses such as books or help with transportation.
“The board had an idea (that) we needed to have a greater impact than gap funding,” Hart said. “We decided to do a test that continued beyond our pilot.”
To get a college loan forgiven, the student must graduate with a GPA of at least 2.75 and remain in northeast Indiana at least five years, Elizabeth Bushnell, the foundation's executive director, said. In Schroeder's case, her $10,000 loan will be forgiven over five years. But she also has $10,000 in traditional loans to repay.
“It's little enough college debt, I'm planning on paying it back in just one year, which is phenomenal compared to most college students graduating with college debt,” Schroeder said.
The 2016 Bishop Dwenger High School graduate heard about Questa through a family friend. With two younger siblings interested in attending college, Schroeder's parents said they were there to help, but couldn't take on the full financial burden.
Schroeder began her college career at Purdue University in West Lafayette studying food science and always wanted to teach high school. Even the first year at Purdue West Lafayette would have been out of reach without Questa.
“There's very few families who can come up with $20,000 per year in cash in order to go to a university like Purdue,” Schroeder said. “I'm very grateful I'll get at least $10,000 of (my loan) forgiven and what I pay back which amounts to $10,000 is at a low interest rate. It really gives me a lot of peace of mind.”
Questa Scholars has kept two-thirds of its graduates in northeast Indiana and boasts an 85% graduation rate compared with the national average rate of 60%, Bushnell said. Questa's reach includes Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Whitley, Wabash and Wells counties.
Two other Questa loan programs are available. The Contemporary Scholars Program forgives up to 50% of a loan for a college junior or senior who is either continuing the last two years of college or returning to college after a break.
Another program through Parkview Health offers scholarship aid to employees seeking higher degrees, or nursing students in their last two years of school, Bushnell said.
Funding comes from foundations, regional employers, the Fort Wayne Legacy Fund and private donors, Bushnell said.
Information is found at www.questafoundation.org.