W. Kansas’ only 4-year institution becomes a trendsetter in efficiencies, low tuition
By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
While the State of Kansas is staring at a budget shortfall next year and looking for ways to provide necessary services while trimming costs, they might want to take a look at what Dr. Edward Hammond and his staff have accomplished at Fort Hays State University.
The four-year institution, the only public university in Western Kansas, has been able to increase its student population, increase the effectiveness of the education received and reduce the per credit hour cost all at the same time.
“We’re the fastest growing in the state,” Hammond said during a recent stop in Liberal.
The school had a goal of reaching 10,000 students by 2010.
They reached it this fall.
“We’ve been able to keep tuition down, and that has helped us reach our goal ahead of schedule,” Hammond said.
FHSU has been offering four-year degree programs to Southwest Kansas through its virtual college, and with other modifications to the school, Hammond has been able to reduce the cost, which keeps students in Southwest Kansas rather than traveling across the state or even out of state.
“We’re the only university in the nation to drive the cost per credit hour down three years in a row,” Hammond said.
Providing the necessary education and keeping students in Western Kansas was an important mission for Hammond.
While the nation is faced with a challenging economic picture, Hammond said Kansas was insulated due to its agricultural and aviation industry.
“Now is a great time for Kansas to grow,” he said. “We can easily move from 2.7 million to 3.1 million Kansans.”
FHSU has had a strong record of retaining the students it brings in to the state, according to Hammond.
“Eighty percent of the students we bring in to Kansas stay in Kansas,” he said. “The further east a student goes to get an education, the less likely they are to return to Western Kansas.”
Staying in Western Kansas can be cost effective. FHSU offers many of the same programs as larger universities in the state but at a lower cost. Some degrees can be attained for $10,000 less, according to Hammond.
The lower tuition is a result of innovative efficiencies, from paperless grade reporting and financial aid to higher retention and lower Internet start-up costs.
Most universities spend about $50,000 to develop an online class.
FHSU can accomplish the task for $3,000 to $12,000.
FHSU has also developed an in-house construction crew and has installed its own generators to cut peak power usage and saved more than three-quarters of a million dollars in electrical expense.
All of this has led to a quality education for almost half the cost of peer schools.
When FHSU is compared to similar universities, its tuition fees are 58 percent of the average. That compares to 107 percent for Kansas University and 109 percent of Kansas State University when compared to their peers.
The school has also worked to achieve a one-to-one ratio of teachers to supportive staff. Most universities operate at a three-to-one ratio.
Education has not been adversely affected. A study of comparing incoming freshmen to graduates indicated that learning has increased during the efficient implementations.
“We are in the top 10 percent of four-year schools for value added from freshman to graduation,” Hammond said.
FHSU’s student to faculty ratio is 17-to-1, maintaining small class size to enhance the educational experience.
Many Seward County Community College/Area Technical School graduates utilize FHSU’s extended classes to finish their degree while keeping their jobs locally.