PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville is the first public university in the country to offer assistance to future teachers with student loan debt. 

The program applies to education majors who plan to teach in elementary or middle schools. They must make below $48,000 per year starting out.

“Going into education, we know teachers don’t always make the same amount of money that they should,” said Jen Collins, director of UW-Platteville’s School of Education. “This is a way for us to support those students.”

The program works on a sliding scale, with graduates making a teaching salary below $20,000 receiving 100% forgiveness. The goal is to entice more students to teach in rural areas, where the pay is low and the teacher shortage is growing.

“There’s a teacher shortage everywhere and rural communities are underserved,” Collins said. “Starting pay is a lot lower.”

Katie Schroder is one of 30 students signed up for the program so far, which launched this past fall. She is a freshman and hopes to teach in Cuba City, the school district she went to.

“I grew up in Dickeyville and I went to high school in Cuba and I love the small-town feel,” she said. “I love the small class sizes and a rural education is very important to me.”

Schroeder is taking a 17-credit course load and currently works three jobs. Two of those include working at a day care and teaching dance lessons. Her experience with kids influenced her decision to pursue teaching.

“I love kids,” she said. “I look forward to going to work every day and I love the connections I make.”

Collins said the prediction is that the students who sign up for this program will have half of their student loans repaid. She said the college is working to include more education majors in the future.