By SCOTT AUST
Speaking about some of the current trends in higher education during a stop in Garden City on Thursday, Fort Hays State University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joey Linn said FHSU continues to work on a priority set by the Kansas Board of Regents to improve the state workforce by producing more people with post-high school credentials.
Linn, standing in for interim FHSU President Dr. Andy Tompkins who was ill and could not attend the local FHSU alumni association luncheon at Ward’s, said the Board of Regents has set a goal for higher education institutions in Kansas to produce by 2020 another 13,000 people who have some kind of credential, whether it’s a certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree or other. Currently, state colleges and universities produce about 40,000 so it will be a challenge to find even more, Linn said.
“We’re all working hard to do that. How do we do it? First of all, we graduate the students we have on our campuses. Second of all, we try to find more students, whether that’s traditional age high school students, community college students, non-traditional students, anyone that needs a credential or to finish a degree. That’s extremely important,” he said.
Some of the other trends in higher education include using multiple delivery modes both on campus and online and in FHSU’s case, international partnerships with universities in China, and dealing with the increased pressure to manage tuition costs in an environment of decreased state funding.
Speaking about tuition and funding, Linn said schools need to either grow the university or charge more, noting that FHSU still has the lowest tuition among regents institutions.
“Our DNA at Fort Hays State is making sure we offer opportunity for higher ed at affordable cost. That’s what we’re all about. So we’re growing our enrollment,” he said.
Indeed, FHSU has seen an increase in enrollment for the 17th consecutive year. The university’s enrollment is currently 15,100 students, which includes 4,648 on campus, 6,882 online and 3,570 international.
“That’s something we’re extremely proud of, and it takes the entire Fort Hays State family to do that,” Linn said. “It’s the first time ever that we’ve reached 15,000. We are the third largest institution in the regent system. We passed Wichita State a year ago.”
This fall, FHSU had 990 freshmen enroll, an increase of 58 compared to last fall’s freshman class and the largest ever seen at FHSU.
Highlighting some of the student success initiatives, Linn mentioned that FHSU tore down longtime student dorm Wiest Hall and in its place has built Victor E. Village, a 400 bed facility that houses freshman learning communities.
FHSU has 18 learning communities , which are 25-30 student pods led by a faculty member. The pods take a couple of classes and do things together, the idea being the group can help incoming students handle the first year of college better than if they were going it alone.
The university also offers a First 40 Days program for incoming freshmen. Linn called that time period the most critical because many students are away from home for the first time. The program includes a nationally recognized program embedded in a required freshman seminar class, and activities that gets students out of their rooms and acclimated to different clubs or organizations on campus.
Linn also highlighted FHSU’s nationally ranked on campus and online programs and said the school is nimble in making sure its academic programs match industry needs for workforce. He pointed out that FHSU has a 95 percent job placement rate after graduation.
Linn also addressed questions from assembled alumni. One person asked how the recent national debate over DACA uncertainty is impacting students.
According to Linn, FHSU has a total of 50 undocumented students though not all of them are DACA students. Linn said the university does not keep track of that.
“Our students are scared. Our students are nervous. ‘What does it mean?’ They have a thousand questions,” he said.
Linn said each regent institution came out with a statement in support of their students. FHSU contacted a Kansas City immigration attorney who the university has made available to its students. It also asked students to send the administration a list of any and all questions they have, and put the questions and answers on the FHSU website.
“I can’t talk enough about what wonderful students they are,” Linn said. “They deserve to be on campuses. They deserve to be getting their degrees. We’re providing as much support as we can, and our students are writing legislators and other people to say it’s important that Congress does something. We’re doing everything we can to reach out and support our students.”
Another question concerned the search for a new president. Linn said while interim President Tompkins is a tremendous individual who came to FHSU (in December 2016) at a time the university needed someone of his stature, Tompkins wants to return to retirement.
However, Linn said the Regents are getting close to naming a new president, an announcement that could come as early as late October or early November.
Linn also had to put in a plug for the success of the FHSU Tiger football team, currently 7-0 and ranked No. 8 in the latest NCAA Division II poll.
“Having football like it is right now, it just creates such an awesome environment to kick off the fall semester. The students are all excited, everybody’s just going crazy. Coach (Chris) Brown comes from this neck of the woods out here (Liberal) and has done a great job recruiting student-athletes,” Linn said.
Linn said it’s been great to see the stadium at capacity for home games; however, he joked that alumni shouldn’t try to hit him up for tickets because he doesn’t have any.
For more information about FHSU, go to www.fhsu.edu.