The concerns plaguing Fort Hays State University are the same as those plaguing rural Kansas as a whole, FHSU Interim Provost Jeff Briggs said. And, the Hays-based college is doing what it can to meet the needs of those on the High Plains.
“We know there are challenges facing Fort Hays and Western Kansas,” he said, addressing a room full of FHSU alum and other supporters Wednesday afternoon. Briggs was at the Holiday Inn Express in Great Bend as part of a statewide tour touting the school.
Briggs, himself a FHSU graduate, noted how the school, as well as other schools including Barton Community College, are working to meet these challenges.
“There are tremendous needs in all of our rural communities,” he said. But, despite setbacks, “it has been an amazing story” at Fort Hays. He addressed the following trends:
• A new emphasis on post-secondary education, be it in four-year universities or trade schools. The goal is to have 60 percent of rural Kansans with some form of post-high school credentials, thus making them more marketable to employers and keeping an educated workforce in the state.
• The evolving of degree delivery methods, and retooling universities to meet the demands for online degrees and bolstering overseas programs. Of the college’s total enrollment of about 15,000, 5,000 are on the Hays campus.
• As state aid, which provides around 25 percent of FHSU’s funding, holds steady or declines, there is pressure to increase tuition. Briggs said Hays has the lowest tuition of all the Kansas Board of Regents institutions (at close to $5,000 per year).
“Alumni and donor support is critical to our success,” Briggs said. This money helps with scholarships and pay for programs so costs can be held in check, and Fort Hays has one of the strongest college foundations in the nation.
• A push to get more non-traditional and international students. This is an issue across the post-secondary landscape, he said.
• More use of social media in targeted marketing and recruiting.
Fort Hays has held its own, he said – from expanding offerings abroad in China, to marking 17 straight years with increased enrollment, to having nationally ranked programs to having a 72 percent retention for students to boasting a 95 percent placement rate following graduation.
There has also been considerable investment in the campus with several new classroom buildings and more student housing.
Great Bend was the second to the last stop on the promotional tour which ends Thursday in Garden City. Earlier stops included Overland Park and Hutchinson.
Briggs was pinch hitting for Interim FHSU President Andy Tompkins who was sidelined due to illness. Tompkins, who is the former commissioner of education for the Kansas Department of Education, has served at FHSU since December 2016.
Tompkins was asked to step in when Mirta Martin announced her immediate resignation as FHSU president in November 2016 for “personal reasons.”
Briggs said it is possible a new permanent president could be named as early as November.