Paying for Students to Move

The largest technical college in Kansas is paying relocation and housing costs for students to move to the area, many from other states, to deal with a work-force shortage in the local aviation industry.

May 10, 2019
WSU Tech

When Romar Tallie saw the Wichita Promise Move advertisement on Instagram last year, he thought the program was too good to be true.

The Hattiesburg, Miss., resident read the Promise Move website and learned that WSU Tech in Kansas would pay his tuition, fees and moving expenses to Wichita if he enrolled in one of the college's aviation manufacturing programs. Tallie applied for the scholarship immediately and then encouraged his brother, Robert, and mother, Mardavi Howard, to apply.

"After I finished my application, I woke up my brother and told him, 'This is our chance,'" he said in a written statement.

The three family members received the scholarship and moved their lives from Mississippi to Kansas.

"It just all fell into place. It was amazing," Tallie said in a promotional video for the program (see below). "Great move."

A work-force shortage in the aviation manufacturing industry was the driver of the technical college's experiment with paying potential students to move from across the country to enroll at the two-year institution.

Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World because of the number of aircraft manufacturing companies that have facilities there, including Textron Aviation, Learjet, Airbus and Spirit AeroSystems. But local colleges aren’t producing enough graduates with the certification and training needed by these companies. According to Boeing, North America will need 189,000 aircraft maintenance technicians over the next two decades.

WSU Tech, the largest technical college in Kansas, created the Wichita Promise Move last year to help address the problem. Like most college promise programs across the country, Wichita Promise Move is a last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition and fees beyond what federal aid covers. But the program also pays for relocation and housing expenses for students who move to the Wichita area from more than 50 miles from the campus.

"There are all kinds of opportunities in manufacturing and aviation here,” said Sheree Utash, WSU Tech's president.

The college, with the help of a one-time $500,000 grant from the Wichita Community Foundation, wanted to test whether people would move to the area if nearly all the financial barriers to relocation and enrolling were eliminated.

Last year, after receiving more than 1,000 applications, WSU Tech offered the Promise Move scholarship to 50 individuals from 20 states. Only nine of those students were from Kansas. This year, using internal funding from the college, WSU Tech offered the scholarship to 47 students from 15 states. Some of the students are from Massachusetts, California, Florida, New York and Washington, said Mandy Fouse, a spokeswoman for WSU Tech.

“This program has been amazing for me,” said Matt Salyer, 26, a Promise Move recipient from Garden City, Kans. “Everything was taken care of and set up so that any doubts I had were taken care of … I have no doubt that in two months I’ll be in a job I love and know what to do.”

Salyer is part of the second group of 47 students to receive the scholarship. His hometown is about three hours from WSU Tech. Before seeing the scholarship ad on Facebook, he was working up to 30 hours per week in two minimum-wage jobs. He’s now enrolled in the college’s six-week aviation sheet-metal assembly program. The eight-week process mechanic program also is eligible for the scholarship. Students can earn a technical certificate in both programs.

Besides tuition, fees and moving expenses, students receive a weekly stipend that can help them pay for other living costs such as gas or daycare. The college provides a shuttle to help students get to classes, as well as housing and furniture for new students.

The program costs the college on average about $8,000 per student, Utash said.

“If this concept proves to be successful, a relocation package of about $8,000 a person to put a person in your work force is pretty reasonable, and it’s a great return on investment for the students taking advantage of the program,” she said.

The Promise Move scholarship also comes with a guaranteed job interview with Spirit and Textron. Every student who received the scholarship last year was hired by one of the companies, Utash said.

“Our success is predicated on having an educated work force,” said Rachel Williams, a spokeswoman for Textron. “This gives us a more knowledgeable group of employees who have been through very specific training.”

Textron, a general aviation company, is known for manufacturing Beechcraft, Cessna and Hawker aircraft. The company works with WSU Tech to be sure the classroom training students receive matches the production and maintenance work Textron needs. Williams said recent graduates the company hires come in better prepared for the additional training they receive from the company.

“Everybody doesn’t need to go to a four-year college, and if everybody does, we would continue to have a massive shortage of employees,” she said. “That’s why we did programs like this to make sure we’re pulling people into the industry.”

Textron announced last week that it will attempt to hire at least 1,000 people this year, the same number it hired last year. And Spirit announced in December that it needed 1,400 new employees, Utash said.

“The number of people that are flying is increasing,” Williams said. “But fewer people are going into specific programs for production and maintenance of those aircraft when we need them more than ever.”

The Promise Move scholarship is expensive for the college, Utash said. And WSU Tech is seeking to raise funds for it to continue. College administrators also want to collect more data on the success of graduates once they are placed in these jobs so they can show potential funders the program’s worth.

Utash said that despite the funding challenge, WSU Tech has big plans for the scholarship, saying the goal is to "put together a program we could scale and maybe create a national model to encourage people to gravitate toward markets where this is an industry need."


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