PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island nursing students who stay in the Ocean State after graduation are now eligible for four years of zero-interest student loans.
The initiative, announced Tuesday by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, seeks to address a looming shortage of nurses in the state. Chafee, an independent, called the incentive a “win-win” for nurses and the state.
“We have hospitals that need nurses and we have people in Rhode Island that need work,” Chafee said at the announcement at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Rhode Island faced a shortage of 1,800 nurses in 2009, according to a study commissioned by the state Senate. The study estimated that the state will need 6,500 additional nurses by the year 2020 to keep up with aging baby boomers.
To qualify, nursing students must agree to work at a hospital or health care facility in Rhode Island after they graduate. In exchange, the students would pay no interest on their student loans for up to four years after receiving their degree. The loans would be offered by the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority. Only students with loans for upcoming academic years can participate.
After four years the student would begin paying interest on the loan, but could work out-of-state. Nurses who take a job in another state before the end of four years would lose the benefit going forward.
A student with a $15,000 loan would see their monthly payments reduced from $139 to $83 if they participate, according to Charles Kelley, director of the Student Loan Authority. The savings would add up to $2,600 over four years.
While the loan program will help give young nurses a financial boost, the state will be the big winner if it can retain nurses, according to Timothy Babineau, president and CEO of Rhode Island Hospital and Miriam Hospital.
“A shortage in nursing would be devastating,” Babineau said. “Without nurses we simply couldn’t deliver the life-saving care that our communities have come to depend on.”
Some 200-300 nursing students are expected to participate in the loan program, Kelley said.