Enrollment at Fort Hays State University has climbed beyond 6,000 for the first time in history, soaring to 6,392 students.
The 20th day of classes, which was Monday, established the university's all-time highest enrollment. The headcount of 6,392 is 766 more students -- an increase of 13.6 percent! -- over the official 20th-day enrollment of 5,626 for the fall 2001 semester.
The previous highest enrollments were 5,863 on the 20th day in fall 1980, 5,816 at the end of the fall 1997 semester and 5,812 at the end of the fall 2001 semester.
"We have growth across the board," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said in announcing the record enrollment. "The Virtual College enrollment of 1,890 is an increase of 713 students, or 60.6 percent, from a year ago. We also have seen an increase in our on-campus enrollment to 4,502, which is 53 more students -- or 1.2 percent -- than last fall."
Two other areas of growth suggest that the upward trend will continue. "We have 831 new freshmen on campus this year, which is an increase of 77 -- or 10.2 percent -- from last year," the president said. "Likewise, we have 362 transfer students on campus, which represent an increase of 32 -- or 9.7 percent -- from the fall 2001 semester."
President Hammond attributed the extraordinary growth to two factors. "First, the university's 'Affordable Success' strategy is working," he said. "Second, a slowing economy, such as the one Kansas has experienced in recent months, typically inspires many displaced workers to pursue more education."
The president was quick to point out that the "Affordable Success" message works because it is true. FHSU was already the best buy in higher education for the entire state -- more affordable that the other universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system, which in turn were more affordable than the private colleges in the state. That gap grew this fall when the other Regents universities implemented tuition increases that ranged from 9.0 percent to 25.2 percent, compared to a tuition increase of 6.4 percent at FHSU. The "success" claim can be substantiated by a recent 99 percent job placement rate for FHSU graduates and numerous victories in academic competitions, including national championships last year for the Fort Hays State debate and financial planning teams.
"Our record enrollment numbers are even more impressive when you consider that demographics would not have predicted the increases," President Hammond said. "The number of students graduating from high schools in western Kansas, our primary service area, is in decline. Our climbing enrollment shows that the message of 'Affordable Success' has broad appeal."
Joey Linn, FHSU registrar, extended credit to the employees of the university. "This growth results from the dedication of people in all the offices and academic departments across campus who work so hard to make prospective students aware of the wonderful educational opportunities available at Fort Hays State," he said. "I especially want to commend our faculty, who do a great job of teaching classes on campus and also ensure the academic quality of our Virtual College offerings by teaching those classes as well."
As cited above, the official 20th-day headcount enrollment of 5,626 for the fall 2001 semester had climbed to 5,812 by the end of that semester. That has been the experience in recent years because students continue to enroll after the 20th day, especially in FHSU's Virtual College. The spring 2002 semester set an all-time record for spring enrollments with 5,472 on the 20th day, then climbed to an even higher record of 5,894 by the end of the semester.
"The Regents have established the official 20th-day headcount enrollment as a way of providing a snapshot of enrollment trends," President Hammond said. "However, our Virtual College provides a way for people to learn and improve their marketability without having to uproot their family to a university town. With Virtual College enrollments continuing throughout the semester, the 20th-day count has become somewhat misleading. Fort Hays State's enrollment now is always significantly higher by the end of the semester."
Especially in light of the state's ongoing fiscal problems, the president believes that counting the number of students served within a fiscal year gives the Regents and state lawmakers better information. For example, during fiscal year 2001, which ran from July 1, 2000, through June 30. 2001, Fort Hays State served 7,702 separate individuals, whether they took just one class or many classes. The number of individuals served by FHSU climbed to 8,058 in fiscal year 2002, and he expects it to increase significantly by the time fiscal year 2003 concludes on June 30, 2003.