The campus of Johnson County Community College is pictured Sept. 16 in Overland Park. The college had the highest number of Kansas Promise Scholarship recipients in the state.
The campus of Johnson County Community College is pictured Sept. 16 in Overland Park. The college had the highest number of Kansas Promise Scholarship recipients in the state. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

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Less than a year into offering free community college for Kansas students in some high-demand fields, the state legislature is proposing adjustments to expand access.

While 663 students received the Kansas Promise Scholarship during the first semester of the new program, according to an early 2022 report to the Kansas Legislature, nearly 75% of those who applied didn’t receive an award. About $1.5 million of the $10 million budgeted for the fiscal year was distributed. Data for the current semester isn’t yet available.

The most common reason for denial was not pursuing an eligible program. More than 30% of applicants fell into that category.

The second most common reason was that the student’s full cost of education was covered by other sources.

Now, legislation on Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk — part of a K-12 education funding bill — could expand the program to include additional fields and applicants.

Currently, the four eligible fields of study are information technology and security; mental and physical health care; advanced manufacturing and building trades; and early childhood education and development. Each college can also pick a single additional program that addresses local needs. 

If Kelly signs the 2022 legislation, each college could instead add an entire field of study — which could encompass multiple programs — from the following list: 

  • agriculture;
  • food and natural resources;
  • education and training;
  • law, public safety, corrections and security;
  • distribution and logistics.

The proposal requires the Kansas Board of Regents to approve programs of study, which should be high-demand, high-paying or meet a critical need. 

It allows the board to include associate degree transfer programs if they have an established agreement with a four-year college. 

Who received Kansas Promise scholarships

According to a supplemental note attached to an earlier version of the 2022 legislation, representatives of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, Kansas Independent College Association and Kansas Technical Colleges supported changes to the program and said it had overall been an “initial success.” 

Kansas’ Board of Regents didn’t take a position on the bill but agreed the program has been a success so far.  

Johnson County Community College, in the Kansas City metropolitan area, had the highest number of successful applicants, with 87 students receiving a combined total of $129,981. 

Another local institution, Kansas City Kansas Community College, awarded 16 students a combined total of $24,268. 

At the time of publication, neither college had responded to requests to comment on the impact of the program, provide spring-semester updates or connect The Beacon to scholarship recipients. 

To receive the scholarship, students sign a contract agreeing they will live and work in Kansas for at least two years after graduation. About 5% of students who applied didn’t receive the scholarship because they declined to sign. 

The Kansas Promise Scholarship is meant to cover the entire remaining costs of education — including tuition, fees, books and supplies — after other types of aid are applied. At least one student received nearly $10,000. 

But if another program, such as the federal Pell Grant, covers education costs, students may find they need little or no money. At least one received only $15. 

Applicants must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be eligible for the program. 

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and one of the main legislators who pushed for the program, told The Kansas City Beacon last year that the FAFSA requirement helps students discover other grants they’re eligible to receive. 

Less than 2% of students who applied were turned away because they didn’t complete the FAFSA, and close to the same number didn’t fully complete the application. 

Other students didn’t meet age or previous education requirements, didn’t establish that they were residents of Kansas or didn’t enroll in at least six credit hours during the fall semester. 

The 2022 proposal would tweak age requirements to make them more inclusive. The program previously excluded students who graduated from high school more than a year ago but aren’t yet 21.  

Proposed changes to Kansas Promise Scholarship funding

The least common reason for applicants to be denied was lack of funding. 

Under the original law, $10 million is allocated to the program for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. Starting in fiscal year 2024, the program’s budget can’t exceed 150% of the amount that was actually claimed during the previous fiscal year. 

If Kelly signs the proposed funding legislation, it would instead create a permanent cap of $10 million per year and would sunset the program in 2027, meaning it would end unless renewed by the legislature. 

The 2022 legislation also limits the program to U.S. citizens and adds detail about how the state should administer it, including tracking results and recouping funds from students who don’t follow through on the agreement. 

The Kansas Promise Act allocates funding in several installments, each distributed among eligible colleges proportionally based on their enrollment. 

Students who met specific income caps received priority for the program, but the caps were relatively high compared to some need-based programs, starting at $100,000 for a family of two or $150,000 for a family of three. 

If extra funding remained, families with higher incomes could qualify as well — though the new legislation would remove that opportunity.  

Only about 1% of applicants missed out on the scholarship either because their institution had run out of funds or because it wasn’t prioritizing their income bracket yet.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.