The small southeast Kansas town of Neodesha hopes a new program offering free college tuition to graduates of the local high school will help attract new residents.

A wealthy former resident of the town announced the scholarship offer last month.  Ben Cutler said he doesn’t think he would have been nearly as successful in life without his Neodesha upbringing in the 1950s and 1960s.  He decided to create the college tuition program as a way to give back to his hometown.  Cutler declined to say how much he donated, but he estimates it should be enough to cover at least 25 years of college costs for the town’s graduates.

Cutler is a retired former CEO of USHealth Group, which provides health insurance to small businesses and the self employed.

Neodesha resident Don Adams, who owns a financial services firm, said the town of 2,300 could see 15% growth in the next few years because of the program.  The Kansas City Star reported the donation has rejuvenated efforts to revive the city’s defunct chamber of commerce and address Neodesha’s longstanding housing shortage.

Paula Wells, who owns the local pharmacy in Neodesha, said she’s already heard about families interested in moving to the town because of the scholarship program.

“That’s a big deal,” Wells said, “because a month ago you wouldn’t have heard somebody say, `Hey, I want to move to Neodesha.”’

To qualify, students must have attended local schools since at least the sixth grade and graduate with at least a C average.

The aid can be used at any college, but it is capped at an amount equal to the highest in-state tuition for 120 credit hours at state school.  Currently, that amounts to about $44,000 for four years.

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