stanfordStanford University’s Graduate School of Business is now offering financial aid specifically for Midwest students

By Kendall Wenaas

Next year, three students will win the lottery. They will get to go to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for free. The only catch: they have to have strong ties to the Midwest—though not so strong that they would mind living in California, at least for school.

Last month, the school announced the Stanford USA MBA Fellowship, which will grant financial assistance—approximately $160,000 in value—to three students who are dedicated to improving the Midwest’s economic development upon graduation. To be chosen, a student must show their connection to the Midwest, prove they’re dedicated to the flyover states and agree to return to the Midwest for two consecutive years following their graduation from Stanford.

“The Midwest is strategically important to the U.S. and global economy,” said Victoria Hendel De La O, assistant director of online technologies at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “Students from the Midwest are underrepresented in our student body, and the fellowship was created to attract them to come to Stanford and encourage them to return to the Midwest.”

Stanford has only one other region-specific fellowship: The Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship. Like its Midwest counterpart, the Africa MBA Fellowship provides students who likely couldn’t have had the opportunity to attend Stanford with the necessary financial means, in hopes that it will benefit their own communities in the future.

Benjamin Fernandes is a 23-year-old from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, who became a fellow through the Africa MBA program in 2015. He is currently working on financial technology that he plans to bring back to Tanzania in 2017.

“I do feel a stronger commitment to serving my community back home,” Fernandes said. “Whether it comes to picking classes or selecting what kind of electives I would like to be a part of, I make sure I can create learning opportunities from them that I could take to my home country.”

Stanford’s program suggests that the Midwest is in need of help. “The Midwest has experienced unique economic challenges in recent years, and our hope is that this fellowship plays a role in fostering additional entrepreneurism and innovation throughout the region,” Hendel De La O said.

This statement is debatable.

Creighton University’s Heider College of Business has compiled data on Mid-America’s economy (they define Mid-America as Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota) in comparison to the United State’s economy as a whole.

In this report, they compare Mid-America’s Purchasing Management Index to that of the rest of the United States. The PMI predicts where the economy is headed in the following months— if it’s above 50 percent, the economy is expanding, and if it’s below, it’s contracting.

Over the last 60 months, Mid-America’s PMI has been above 50 percent for 45 months. And over the same amount of time, Mid-America’s Index has been greater than the United States’ for 24 months.

This month, South Dakota tied New Hampshire for the state with the lowest unemployment rate. North Dakota came in third, and Nebraska tied two other states for sixth. Back in 2013, North Dakota ranked first, while Nebraska and South Dakota tied for second.

While a graduate of Stanford may move into an area that needs assistance, there’s no promising that they couldn’t move to an already flourishing city in the Midwest.

“We also believe the relationships and networks developed between Midwest students and the broader Graduate School of Business student body will help bridge the gap between West Coast and Midwest enterprises and expertise,” Hendel De La O said. “The Midwest has historically been a leader in industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and mining, among others.”

Still, the economy varies across the Midwest. While a graduate of Stanford may move into an area that needs assistance, there’s no promising that they couldn’t move to an already flourishing city in the Midwest.

Many of the Midwest’s larger cities like Minneapolis, Kansas City and Des Moines all have unemployment rates lower than their respective state averages—a clear sign of an employment gap between rural and urban labor markets. Were a Stanford graduate to work in one of these cities upon earning their MBA, they could improve an area that doesn’t necessarily need improvement.

For Fernandes, his Stanford fellowship has opened doors to entirely new possibilities. He credits it as “a gift of a lifetime.”

“It’s very difficult to find words for the kind of gratitude that you feel for someone who has given you the gift of education,” he said. “It is the most transformational gift you can receive. It makes me feel the responsibility to go on and do something. Honestly, without this fellowship, I would not have been able to attend Stanford Graduate School of Business.”

The school hopes the inaugural USA Fellowship has the same effect within our country’s borders. Typically, only one to five percent of Stanford MBA graduates end up back in the Midwest right after graduation. The school is hoping this will incentivize the area, as well as improve the economy.

“Having a strong ecosystem of leaders prepared to grow and nurture the next generation of industry-leading organizations is essential to the economic strength of the region,” Hendel De La O said.

What happens if the Midwest scholars are so enamored by the West that they choose to stay after graduation? Then they have to face their debt. Students sign an agreement that they must work for two consecutive years in the Midwest within four years of graduating, otherwise they’re responsible for all Fellowship funding that was received.

Assuming this program is a success, Stanford hopes to expand it to other regions in the country. For now, though, they’re focused on improving Middle America and diversifying their own student body. Even if they might be fixing something that isn’t broken.