Teach for America is shaking off a pandemic slump, signing up a flood of new recruits drawn in part to its student-loan relief benefits.

The educational nonprofit, which hires college graduates to work at schools in low-income communities around the US, says its incoming class for 2023-24 is nearly 40% bigger than last year, the largest jump since the financial crisis.

Participants in Teach for America, which started in 1990, get paid $33,000 to $68,000 a year, depending on the region and teaching experience. They also receive health insurance and vacation.

People are often drawn to Teach for America because of the opportunity to make an impact on a local school. And while the low salaries can make it a tough draw, applications surged this year in part because the job market is shaky and the program offers ways to cut down on student loan payments, according to Darin Lim Yankowitz, the organization’s senior vice president of recruitment.

“Economic incentive has always been important, but I think it’s of heightened importance right now,” Yankowitz said. “People are seeing tons of layoffs — I think that heightens people’s anxiety about the debt burden because of the instability in the job market.”

Student loan debt in the US totals about $1.77 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve, and has tripled since the Great Recession. A pandemic pause on payments is set to end in October after more than three years, and millions of Americans will once again be on the hook for monthly bills. That comes after the Supreme Court nixed a Biden administration plan to forgive as much as $20,000 per borrower.

Teach for America recruits are eligible for several loan forgiveness programs, including the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which provides roughly $6,900 that can be used to pay down student loans after the completion of the two-year program. Some teachers are also eligible for forbearance on federal loans.

Education benefits from employers have been on the rise in the last several years as a way to attract and retain top talent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. However, only a handful of companies help with existing student loan debt.

It’s not surprising these benefits are giving Teach for America a boost, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s Craig Copeland.

“That gives them a better ability to compete for the best people instead of having to try to compete on salary,” Copeland, the institute’s director of wealth benefits research, said. “That really changes the dynamic.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.