Affordable education with quality services for students has always been a top priority at Fort Hays State University. In continuing this tradition of educational excellence, FHSU's Liberal Studies program was recently approved for full membership in the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, elevating the program's reputation for quality.
"It's not like a formal accreditation, but it is a mark of quality," said Dr. Chris Crawford, assistant provost for quality management. "It's a meaningful membership in the only liberal studies program in the nation. By having this mark of quality, it offers students a rigorous, worthwhile program that they will not receive at many other schools."
Consideration for joining the AGLSP came in the fall 2001 semester when the program experienced a substantial increase in students, at least 50 per semester, a trend which has continued through the fall 2003 semester. The liberal studies program currently has 320 students.
"The Master of Liberal Studies is a unique interdisciplinary graduate program available through the College of Arts and Sciences at Fort Hays State University," Crawford wrote in the application for full membership. "The MLS is directed toward the non-traditional student seeking either career enhancement or life enrichment through graduate study.
Through the liberal studies program, students can through the liberal studies program, students can receive a quality graduate-level education where an MA or an MS may not be available in a particular discipline or in a program that has not yet developed to an MA or MS level.
"The core of classes offers an 'umbrella' experience that gives all MLS students a common basis and context for their diverse areas of study," Crawford said. "I believe that so many students are becoming liberal studies majors for two reasons," Crawford said. "It is very convenient to students and it has a wide choice of offerings."
Dr. Art Morin, director of the MLS Program at FHSU, said that as of Oct. 16, 81 schools were full members and 50 were associate members in the AGLSP. The organization is composed of diverse schools with liberal studies programs which include Georgetown, Baker University, New York University, Duke, the University of Oklahoma and Southern Methodist University.
After being a member of the AGLSP for a year, FHSU was promoted from associate membership, the branch for schools that have recently established a liberal studies program, to full membership. Full membership is open to institutions of higher learning that have a program in operation, have been associate members for at least one year and have attended at least one associate annual meeting.
Crawford coordinated the liberal studies program at FHSU for two years previous to Morin. He wrote the proposal for full membership in the AGSLP a year ago, in November.
In order to be considered for full membership, FHSU was visited May 21-23, 2003, by Dr. Trent Gabert, associate dean of the College of Liberal Studies at the University of Oklahoma and member of the AGLSP. Gabert met with Crawford, Dr. Larry Gould, Provost and interim dean of the College of Business and Leadership, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of FHSU, and many faculty, chairs, deans, alumni and current students in the program.
"Fort Hays State University is totally committed to providing a quality MLS Degree program and is well ahead of the curve in delivering both on campus and virtual courses and full degree delivery options," Gabert wrote in his site report of FHSU.
He also noted the students' enthusiasm towards the program and their instructors.
Crawford said that Gabert's boss visited in the fall to observe the standards of excellence in the FHSU program. Crawford said that she was impressed with the distance education that is offered through the Virtual College.
After a year-long process, FHSU was promoted to full membership Nov. 8.
"So far, being involved has already had an impact on the history program, the liberal studies program, INT program and justice studies in that they are among the ones that have the most liberal studies students concentrating in those areas," Morin said.
"We're now faced with the questions do we want to grow and do we want to increase the rigor requirements of our students?," Morin said. "If we're going to constitute growth, do we need more faculty and concentrations in the program?"
"We recently proposed funding for more teachers and also for the 10-hour core courses that constitute the basis for the program," he said. "That's where the liberal studies and interdisciplinary element exists."
Crawford said that FHSU has provided an invaluable program for liberal studies students, who can now be recognized as receiving a degree from a nationally recognized liberal studies university.
"The external examiners proved that we've got something going on here," Crawford said.