In recent years, student loan forgiveness (SLF) has become an issue of national interest in the United States, especially in the wake of economic recession and unemployment. The potential of SLF as a recruitment tool and job retention mechanism has engendered widespread support for implementing SLF programs (SLFPs) in public and private sectors. This raises the question: can SLFPs be used as a tool to lessen job turnover in the social work profession?
The Massachusetts Chapter of NASW conducted a survey to examine the impacts of an SLFP on job turnover as part of the legislative efforts to implement the program in the state. The findings from this study, by Sunday B. Fakunmoju, PhD, LICSW/LCSW-C, and Robert C. Kersting, PhD, MSW, DCSW, ACSW, are detailed in the most recent issue of the journal Social Work, published by NASW Press. (This special 60th anniversary issue is dedicated to financial capability and asset building, an important area of social work practice.)
The survey collected data on variables such as demographic characteristics (for example, age, gender, race, and marital status), student loan information, propensity to participate in an SLFP, perception of the effects of SLFPs on turnover prevention, and turnover intention. The study examined perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover and determined the role of turnover intention on the perception. Specifically, the researchers sought to determine whether SLF may be considered a tool for preventing social workers from leaving their jobs by examining association between turnover intention and perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover.
The authors believe that adequate knowledge about perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover may encourage employers to implement an SLFP, strengthen SLFP advocacy efforts, and encourage participation in an SLFP or highlight social workers’ readiness to apply for an SLFP whenever and wherever available. For example, if turnover intention is associated with perceiving SLF as likely to prevent turnover, then SLF may be considered for preventing turnover. Otherwise, it may be difficult to consider SLF as a mechanism for preventing turnover. It is acknowledged that whether workers leave or stay with employers is influenced by factors that include coworker and supervisory support, job satisfaction, and job stress. However, financial incentives are generally considered major effective tools for stemming the tide of turnover. Adequate compensation is important to pay satisfaction, turnover intention, and actual turnover.
The research questions in this study examined the relationships between perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover and turnover intention and sociodemographic variables (for example, propensity to participate in an SLFP, worry about student loan debt). Two research questions were addressed in this study: (1) Does student loan information, propensity to participate in an SLFP, and worry about student loan debt differ by demographic characteristics? and (2) What is the association between turnover intention and perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover?
Two areas of perceived likelihood of SLF to prevent turnover were considered, namely (1) perceived effects on easing turnover pressure and (2) perceived effects on activation of turnover intention. Propensity to participate in an SLFP was measured by two questions. Respondents were asked: (1) “If your employer offers a student loan forgiveness program, how likely are you to stay at your present job?” and (2) “If an external organization offers to forgive your student loan, how likely would it help you stay at your present job?” Worry about student loan debt was studied by asking respondents to identify how worried they were when they thought about student loan debt. Turnover intention was studied by examining reactions to statements. The reaction statements included “I often think of leaving my organization,” “It is very possible that I will look for a new job soon,” and “If I may choose again, I will choose to work for my current organization.” The study utilized respondents from a variety of ages, backgrounds, and student loan debt statuses.
Here are some of the findings:
Demographic Differences in Student Loan Information, Propensity to Participate in an SLFP, and Worry about Student Loan Debt
Those who held an MSW or MA degree were significantly more likely than those with a bachelor’s degree to (a) have inquired about an SLFP to help repay student loan debts; (b) owe $50,000 or more in student loan debt; (c) be currently repaying student loan; and (d) earn $40,000 or more per annum.
Similarly, those who had a master’s degree (or higher) were more likely to indicate propensity to participate in an SLFP than those who held a bachelor’s degree. Those who were married (including married and currently separated, living together in a committed relationship, divorced, and widowed) were more likely to indicate propensity to participate in an SLFP than those who were single. However, those who held a bachelor’s degree were more likely to worry about student loan debt than those who held a master’s degree.
Predictors of Perceived Likelihood of SLF to Prevent Turnover
Higher level of student loan debt, higher worry about student loan debt, and higher turnover intention were significantly related to perceiving SLF as likely to prevent social workers from leaving their jobs. Furthermore, the research suggests that amount of student loan debt, worry about student loan debt, and turnover intention are associated with perceiving SLF as an important tool for preventing turnover. Social workers having higher intention to leave their jobs perceived SLF as capable of easing the pressure to leave. They also perceived SLF as capable of preventing them from activating their turnover intentions.
In general, findings suggest that social workers are receptive to SLF, which is perceived as helpful in easing the pressures of leaving and capable of encouraging them to stay with their employers. In a nutshell, how SLF is perceived as helpful in preventing turnover may depend on the amount of student loan debt, worry about student loan debt, and the extent of social workers’ intention to leave their jobs. This leads the researchers to conclude that although SLF may not be a viable substitute for a favorable work environment, implementing SLF may enhance a prolonged commitment from employees, at least on a short-term basis. SLF may not eliminate turnover intention, it may help to reduce the propensity for employees to leave their jobs.