A new initiative in North Carolina, Teaching Scholars Award Program, aims to encourage young teachers to work in rural areas in exchange for financial rewards and enrichment opportunities.

A collaboration between N.C. State University College of Education and The Innovation Project, a working-group of 24 district superintendents, formed the Teaching Scholars Award Program. They’ll award at least 10 college juniors a $10,000 financial award if they teach for two years after graduation in one of the five school districts facing teacher shortages.

The pilot program includes districts in Cabarrus, Johnston, Wayne County, Lenoir, and Onslow counties. Applications for the pilot phase opens Oct. 15 and ends on Jan. 15, 2018.

Not only will teaching scholars receive four payments of $2,500 from the district in which they teach, but they will also have the opportunity to engage in free professional development, such as the Beginning Teacher Institute. Participants will also get to network with other teaching scholars and experienced teachers, as well as work in one of the school districts during the summer before their senior year.

“We hope that having the financial award will be enough to pique their interest, and then we hope that they will see that these really are great places,” Ann McColl, CEO of The Innovation Project told the News & Observer. “We think we can help build a community around them that can support them. Then they can see themselves as a part of something bigger.”

Those on the left have repeatedly blamed low pay for the shortage of teachers. The starting salary for new teachers is $35,000 annually, though local counties often provide supplements. Wealthier school districts are able to provide a higher supplement compared to low-income districts, which could incentivize young teachers to choose wealthier districts over lower paying ones.

Salary may not be the only influencing factor, as young teachers may be reluctant to move to an unfamiliar rural area with fewer local attractions. Having a strong support element for young teachers to rely on may help alleviate any fear they may have about moving to a new area. A financial award is no doubt a powerful incentive, but professional development and a mentoring system go a long way to attracting young teachers.

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says the program is a good start, but it doesn’t do enough to affect retention rates.

“The TIP Teaching Scholars Award Program is a relatively novel way to address the teacher recruitment challenges that many rural districts face. But recruitment is only one half of the equation,” Stoops said. “Rural school districts must also find ways to retain great teachers. The four-semester length of the program does little to aid retention.”

Stoops sees a silver-lining to the Teaching Scholars Award Program.

“I applaud the effort to place outstanding college graduates in high-need districts,” Stoops said. “Initiatives designed to strengthen the teacher pipeline are needed now more than ever.”