FHSU president touts school's contributions to higher ed agenda





The Kansas Board of Regents' Foresight 2020 agenda is for 60 percent of the Kansas workforce to have some type of credential, certificate or degree by the year 2020.

Dr. Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, is currently on a media tour showing ways that FHSU is helping to achieve that goal, stopping in 17 Kansas communities, including Garden City on Tuesday.

In 2010, the Kansas Board of Regents set the Foresight 2020 agenda with three strategic goals in mind: to increase higher education attainment among Kansans; to improve alignment of the state's higher education system with the needs of the economy; and to ensure state university excellence.

"We only have 2.8 million people in the state. We have to figure out how to educate and credential as many of those people as we can that are capable of getting degrees, or whatever, and position Kansas for success," Hammond said.

He said that Kansas' economic future is tied to all of these goals.

"The more educated the workforce is, the stronger the economy is," Hammond said. "The research shows, from the last census, that 20 years after you graduate from high school, if you have a bachelor's degree, you'll make $25,000 more every single year than that person who just quit after high school."

Hammond said that when he first took on the role as president of FHSU in 1987, Kansas was one of the top five states in the nation in educational attainment, but that since 2000, the state has dropped in that ranking and that continues to do so.

"The Board of Regents has said, 'We can't continue to do that. We've got to turn that around,'" Hammond said.

He said he believes the reasons for the drop are decreasing retention rates, a larger percentage of minorities in the workforce who are not pursuing secondary education and the rising cost of education.

Despite these factors, FHSU has experienced a growth in enrollment over the past several years, and this fall, the number of students reached 13,441, an all-time record at the university and an increase of 131 from fall 2012.

FHSU delivers college courses on campus, virtually and cross-border, which is primarily students at partner universities in China. Hammond said that while FHSU has grown in the numbers of on-campus and virtual students, it has decreased in the number of Chinese students who attend.

"Our China Program has actually been declining the last couple of years because of the one-child rule in China that has been in effect for 22 years and now, all of a sudden, they wake up and realize their number of high school students is dropping really fast. If you only have one child (per family), it's going to happen," he said. "We were up to about 3,600 students in our China program, and we are now probably at about 3,300. But if you look at enrollments in all the institutions in China, they're down because of that demographic, as well."

While this decrease slowed the pace of the college's enrollment increase, the Chronicle of Education recently reported that the 111-year old university was the third-fastest growing university in the United States from 2001 to 2011, behind two relatively new schools, Liberty University in Virginia and Gulf Coast State College in Florida.

Hammond said that there has been a 21.5 percent increase in students from Kansas over the past five years, and that approximately 50 percent of the university's students are from western Kansas.

He said that much of the increase in enrollment has to do with the cost of tuition relative to other board of regents universities, which include Emporia State University, Pittsburg State University, Wichita State University, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. According to a chart comparing tuition totals for a business student's freshman year among those schools, Fort Hays State was the lowest at $4,358.10 per year and KU was the highest at $13,698.10 per year, with the other schools falling somewhere in between.

Hammond said the school has been able to keep tuition down because of efficiency, i.e., using alternative energy such as wind, a smaller administrative staff, and because of the China program.

"The China program is very profitable. The Chinese government pays us $9.5 million. It costs us a little over $5 million to run that program. We take the profits from that to keep tuition down," he said.

Hammond's tour of Kansas communities began on Monday and will continue through Saturday. Prior to leaving Garden City, he spoke at an FHSU alumni reception Tuesday night.

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