FHSU and Southwest Plains Regional Service Center team up to offer master's degrees in southwest Kansas

Thanks to a new cooperative agreement between Fort Hays State University and the Southwest Plains Regional Service Center in Sublette, students in southwest Kansas will soon be able to pursue graduate education at the local level.

Southwest Plains is an educational development center that provides service, support and leadership to 36 school districts in the southwest corner of the state. Directed by Dr. Kathy Dale, its primary focus is enhancing the skills and experience of educators through workshops and courses.

The pilot program will allow courses offered by Southwest Plains to count toward master of science degrees in the FHSU College of Education. Four degree options are available: educational administration; special education; and elementary and secondary education with an emphasis in either school improvement or English as a Second Language (ESL).

"This is a new effort by Fort Hays State to meet the needs of western Kansas," said Dr. Gary Marshall, university services coordinator at Southwest Plains. "We've been underserved by not having a four-year university within 150 miles."

While some courses will be delivered via distance learning technology already in place for FHSU's Virtual College, other classes will be taught in specified face-to-face locations in southwest Kansas.

"There is a tremendous demand from educators in the southwest corner of the state who might be place-bound or unable to attend classes in Hays," said Dr. Tom Buttery, dean of the FHSU College of Education. "It's going to greatly expand the ability for people in southwest Kansas to earn administration certificates, English as a Second Language endorsements and special education endorsements.

"Smaller school districts have a tremendous difficulty in being able to recruit qualified administrators and teachers. Through this program we hope to increase the pool of qualified personnel available."

In addition to Buttery, three other professors from FHSU have been instrumental in the implementation of the pilot program: Dr. Art Hoernicke, chair of the Department of Special Education; Dr. Jim Murphy, chair of the Department of Educational Administration and Counseling; and Dr. Tom Newton, chair of the Department of Teacher Education. In Sublette, Marshall and ESL coordinator Elaine Fox will be primarily responsible for the program's operation.

Approximately 20 courses are scheduled to be offered this fall under the agreement. Marshall said Southwest Plains expected a good response from educators in its service area -- after limited preliminary advertising, 30 people had indicated an interest in the elementary and educational administration programs and 150 expressed interest in the ESL endorsement.

"With the diverse population, ESL is almost a necessity here," Marshall said. He said he believed the educational administration program would prove valuable to the southwest region as well. "We hope to see more people eligible for that degree who will stay in the area. We're trying to grow our own principals."

FHSU's provost, Dr. Larry Gould, said he thought the special needs of southwest Kansas educators would be well served by the pilot program. "This strategic partnership is an excellent example of how the elements of the Kansas system of education can work together to address the need for professional development of teachers and add value to educational programming," Gould said. "FHSU looks forward to the full implementation of this agreement and future projects with SWPRSC that provide western Kansas citizens with access to a four-year university."

Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said the project falls right in line with the university's goal of making a quality education accessible to a variety of student populations. "By combining distance education technology with classroom instruction at the local level in southwest Kansas, this project exemplifies both the 'high-tech' and the 'high-touch' aspects of education that we prize so highly here at FHSU," he said. "It cements our commitment to being 'The University of Western Kansas.' "

For more information about the pilot program, or to enroll in classes, please contact Marshall at (620) 675-2241 or gmarshall@swprsc.org.

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