Written by Maria Benevento and Sophia Belchi
College students in Kansas now have access to a new Kansas Promise Scholarship designed to help maintain their talent in the state after they graduate.
The state allocates $10 million annually to help students entering certain high-demand fields pay for community college education. Scholarship recipients are required to work in Kansas for two years after completing their education.
Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said the program is aimed at students who may not qualify for other types of financial aid.
“It’s kind of taking care of a gap in the financial aid system to help everyday Kansans ensure they can afford a community college education,” Morgan said.
Morgan worked with lawmakers to draft the bill, which the Kansas Senate passed unanimously and Kansas House passed 118-4. Governor Laura Kelly signed the law into law on April 23.
33 institutions of higher education in Kansas are included in the program – 19 community colleges, seven technical colleges, and seven private nonprofit post-secondary institutions.
“The goal of the scholarship program is to help provide Kansas companies with the workforce that they need most, and to help Kansas stay in Kansas,” Morgan said.
How does the KS Promise Scholarship work
The Kansas Scholarship Act went into effect on July 1. After other types of assistance have been applied, the program pays the entire remaining cost of tuition, fees, and books.
In the Kansas City area, Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Central American University of Nazareth and Donnelly College are included in the list of schools with programs accredited by the Kansas Board of Regents website.
At JCCC, tuition and fees per credit hour cost $94 for county residents and $112 for other Kansas residents. This means that a regular full-time course load of 12 to 18 hours could cost $1,128 to $2016, not counting materials or special course fees.
Similarly, KCKCC charges $104 per credit hour for residents of Wyandotte County and $110 for other Kansans residents. That comes out to a range of $1,248 to $1,980 for 12-18 credit hours, not counting materials or special course fees.
Since some students may receive other scholarships, the state will not have to pay the full tuition fee for each student. The average award can range from $1,000 to $1,500, Morgan said.
Scholarship recipients must live and work in Kansas after they graduate. If they continue to earn a higher degree at another institution, the two-year work requirement will begin after they complete their four-year studies.
Kansas Republican Senator Molly Baumgardner, one of the key lawmakers who pushed for the program, said she hopes it makes staying in school easier for recent high school graduates and older students.
“We see it all the time at the community college level where they’re going to take one or two courses, and then we won’t see them for a semester or two because they work and they’re trying to save money to take a couple more courses,” Baumgardner said. “Life is on its way.”
Who is Eligible for a Promise Scholarship
To be eligible for the scholarship, students must study one of four fields: Information Technology and Security. mental and physical health care; advanced construction and manufacturing trade; or early childhood education and development.
In addition, each participating school can choose another field of study to be included in the scholarship.
In the Kansas City area, Johnson County Community College lists more than 50 scholarship-eligible programs, and Kansas City Kansas Community College lists more than 25.
Eligibles must normally have graduated from a high school in Kansas or its equivalent in the past year or be at least 21 years old and have been a resident of Kansas for at least the past three years. There are exceptions for children of military personnel.
Kristal Williams, director of financial assistance at the JCCC, encouraged families not to assume that they do not qualify.
“I think we have a lot of people who might not apply because they feel they wouldn’t qualify, because in the past they weren’t eligible for federal assistance. That’s not the case,” she said.
The maximum income for the program is $100,000 for a family of two and $150,000 for a family of three. For families greater than three, add $4,800 for each additional family member. Those who earn more money can qualify if there is funding left.
To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a requirement intended in part to help them discover other forms of assistance such as Federal Pell Scholarships, Baumgardner said.
She said that’s what an early applicant discovered. “If we didn’t have that scholarship… they would never have filled out the FAFSA,” she said.
The scholarship does not require students to study full time, although they do need to register for at least six hours per semester.
Helping businesses in Kansas fill jobs
While the program’s requirements were primarily designed to meet the workforce needs of corporations in Kansas, those who developed the program also considered the issue of “brain drain”—when educated students walk away in Kansas after graduation.
“I think it was important from the perspective of justifying how you spend the money,” said Scott Smithers, vice president of workforce development at Regent Council in Kansas. “Because if you’re spending money to train people who are leaving Kansas, then while it’s good for students, you have to ask, ‘Is this good for the state as a whole? “
Just over half of the students who graduated from the Kansas higher education system during the 2018 academic year were employed in the state two years later, according to Kansas higher education statistics from the state board of governors. The percentages were slightly higher for 2016 and 2017 graduates.
Requiring students to live and work in Kansas for two years after they graduate will help maintain the state’s workforce, Smithers said.
“Once a student has been here for two years, the likelihood that he will have taken root and become well-established in his community is much higher,” Morgan said.
Traditionally, Morgan said, students who graduate from two-year institutions are more likely to stay in KS. For example, about 63% of students who earned a KS degree in 2018 were employed in Kansas two years later, compared to about 48% of those who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2018.
The program is also designed to help Kansas employers fill required positions.
For example, a 2019 survey from the Kansas Department of Labor found that registered nurses and nursing assistants were among the top three occupations with the highest number of vacancies, over 1,500 each. About 75% of employers in healthcare fields said it was difficult to fill vacancies.
Smathers, of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the scholarship program could also help people who have lost their jobs. “I think it will encourage them to go back to the higher education area to get experience so they can get another job.”
Outlook for the Kansas Promise Scholarship
Smathers said the program has already seen a lot of interest among students.
At Johnson County Community College, Williams estimated that about 120 students had received offers of scholarships as of September 14, and about 90 had accepted them. She expects to see further growth as the college continues to advertise the program.
When developing the program, lawmakers looked to successful examples from other states, such as Tennessee.
In the first year of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, the percentage of high school graduates entering tertiary education jumped nearly 6 percentage points. Since then, it has declined slightly but remains above pre-scholarship levels, according to a 2021 report from the Tennessee Office of Research and Education Accountability.
The number of students enrolled in community colleges has also increased.
The Tennessee program is offered to students regardless of income, grades, or subject of study, but has strict requirements to maintain eligibility, such as attending school full-time, meeting hours of service and attending orientation meetings. Does not cover books and supplies.
A 2020 report from the Office of Research suggested that these were barriers to participation that could be modified.
In Kansas, lawmakers have already avoided some of these pitfalls and plan to modify the program to improve clarity.
One issue they are working on is when students work in the Kansas City metro area and end up transporting across the state line within their company.
“We want all the groups investing in this to look at what’s in the legislation and make recommendations to make it better, to make it more clear,” Baumgardner said.
Maria Benevento is a teaching reporter for The Kansas City Beacon. It is a report on a member of the American Legion.
Sophia Belchi is a journalist intern at The Kansas City Beacon. She is from Overland Park, Kansas, and a rising student at the University of Kansas.