‘Artificially growing the state of Kansas’: Expanded in-state tuition offering aims to grow workforce, fill student housing


Courtesy of Wichita State

Wichita State expanded its in-state tuition offerings along the I-35 Corridor last fall to include counties in Colorado and Illinois.

Kansas is a state of 2.9 million people, but Wichita State will have a pool of 31 million people to draw on for in-state tuition this fall. The expansion of the “Shocker City” initiative along the I-35 Corridor means WSU can offer in-state tuition to more prospective students than any university outside of California.

At a Jan. 10 WSU Board of Trustees meeting, Vice President for Technology Transfer John Tomblin called it “artificially growing the state of Kansas”.

The offering is on the table for residents in specific Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado counties. Residents of all Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri counties not included in the Shocker City program qualify to pay in-state tuition plus 50 percent.

“What we want to do is put them in an applied learning job and then keep them,” Tomblin said. “That’s the end goal, and it’s working.”

I-35 enrollment at WSU rose to 794 students last semester — a 35 percent increase from 2017.

People are moving out of Kansas, Tomblin said, and if WSU wants Innovation Campus to be an appealing destination for industry partnership, they have to have the workforce to back it up. Tomblin also serves as president of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance, the non-profit organization that manages Innovation Campus.

Other universities offer in-state tuition to certain states or pockets of cities, but WSU Chief of Staff Andy Schlapp said the Shocker City program is unique.

“Nobody’s doing an I-35 Corridor where you’re looking at economic trade roots for where you’re drawing your population from,” Schlapp said.

The increased focus on out-of-state recruitment could have major implications for student housing at WSU, where just 12 percent of students currently live on campus.

The goal is 25 percent, Tomblin said, noting that WSU’s student housing is currently at 130 percent occupancy. The first week of January is when WSU benchmarks paid housing contracts for the coming school year.

“Last year, we set a record at this time of 263 contracts for housing — paid contracts for housing. This year, that’s 700,” Tomblin said.

“It’s this I-35 draw. They want to come to Wichita and they want to live on campus.”

This fall, The Suites private resident hall will open on Innovation Campus. Leased by the same company that developed The Flats private apartment complex, The Suites will be priced similarly to Shocker Hall, the only university-owned housing option. Shocker Hall will become a freshman-only facility next school year.

WSU is already paying The Flats of Kansas, LLC more than $2.5 million this year to lease The Flats. Two of the company’s partial owners — one of whom is a member of the Kansas Board of Regents — are co-chairing a 2020 Republican Senate campaign.

“The reality for us here is we need more housing on campus, and I don’t know how else we would have got more housing on campus if not for the arrangement that we currently have,” said Teri Hall, vice president for student affairs.

Hall said that, thanks to out-of-state recruitment, WSU may need a new long-term housing solution in five years.

“We need a 500-800-bed dormitory like what we have at Shocker Hall,” Hall said.

There have been talks of adding another wing to The Flats, but that expansion would only add 150-200 beds, she said.

“Many of our students come from Sedgwick County, and the likelihood that they’re going to live on campus is less because of that,” Hall said. “But as our base shifts and we get more students from out of state and out of Sedgwick County, those are the students that are getting housing on campus.”