121 college grads to get student loan reimbursements under Wavemaker Fellowship

Updated at 4:28 p.m.

R.I. COMMERCE CORP. on Thursday announced 121 college graduates who will receive student loan reimbursements under its Wavemaker Fellowship program./MULTIPLE RHODE ISLAND Democratic candidates will be decided upon Tuesday in the state's primary election. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – One hundred and twenty-one recent college graduates will receive student loan reimbursements under refundable tax credits announced by R.I. Commerce Corp. and Gov. Daniel J. McKee on Thursday.

The awards through the state’s Wavemaker Fellowship program comes after a significant drop in demand for the state incentive program, with applications slashed by 41%, from 245 in 2021, to 141 this year, PBN previously reported. The difference in approved recipients is less stark: 161 last year to 121 this year, although the acceptance rate rose from 65% to 85% due to fewer applicants.

R.I. Commerce previously said the decline in demand was because of temporary suspension on student loan payments during the pandemic, and expected the program’s appeal would rise again now that those policies have ended. However, some lawmakers and members of the Wavemaker Fellowship Committee which reviews and approves applications also suggested that the state should do more to advertise the program and potentially, reopen for another round of applications this year.

Asked about reopening the current round for more applicants, Jennifer McGee, an R.I. Commerce spokesperson, said the agency plans to launch its separate fellowship for healthcare workers later this fall. Another round of reimbursements for STEM workers will be available next year, she said in an email.

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In a statement, Hilary Fagan, president and chief operating office for R.I. Commerce, lauded the program for helping “build a highly skilled workforce to fill employment needs at Rhode Island companies.”

The state in its fiscal 2023 budget expanded eligibility – accompanied by more funding – to include healthcare and mental health workers to the list of eligible recipients. The program, launched in 2016 under former Gov. Gina M. Raimondo initially concentrated on science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers, offering refundable, annual tax credits of $1,000-$6,000 up to four years – with the amount awarded depending on the level of education completed.

The program quickly grew competitive, with 28% of the 688 applicants approved in 2019, PBN previously reported.

The 121 applicants approved in the latest program come from 87 different companies. For the first time in program history, more than half – 52% – are women, the release stated.

Eighty-seven percent of the tax credit recipients are Rhode Island residents, while 69% graduated from Rhode Island colleges or universities. Thirty percent are engineers, and two of the awardees own their own businesses, the release stated. 

(Update: Comment from R.I. Commerce added in 4th paragraph)

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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