Throughout the 1990s, enrollment at Fort Hays State University remained fairly steady, increasing only gradually. As recently as the official 20th day of classes for the fall 2001 semester, enrollment came in at 5,626 students. Then it climbed to 6,392 on the 20th day of the fall 2002 semester and soared to 7,373 on the 20th day of the fall 2003 semester.
This amazing growth trend has now reached the next plateau. Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, announced during a news conference today that with classes that started after the 20th day, the final count for the just-completed fall semester topped out at 8,037 -- by far the university's all-time record enrollment.
The 20th day of classes is the first official enrollment day observed by the Kansas Board of Regents for each of its six universities because it affords a standard basis for comparison, but President Hammond has consistently pointed out in recent years that the changing face of higher education makes the official 20th-day headcount numbers less and less relevant at FHSU, which is a leader in distance education.
"The university did not begin tabulating final, or supplemental, headcounts until 1988, my first year," the president explained. "The final headcounts were closely comparable to the 20th-day headcounts before 1988 because final enrollments were far less numerous before the recent popularity of the Virtual College."
The Virtual College delivers courses to students at locations and times that fit their busy schedules. It
delivers "mediated" undergraduate and graduate courses from FHSU's College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business and Leadership, College of Education and Technology, and College of Health and Life Sciences through various formats, including but not limited to the Internet, video tapes, CD-ROM and Internet Protocol Television.
"Students continue to enroll as new courses are offered throughout a semester, so final enrollments at the end of a semester become significantly higher than 20th-day enrollments," President Hammond said.
In the fall 2003 semester, on-campus enrollment grew by 25 students, from 4,718 up to 4,743, between the 20th day and the end of the semester. Enrollment in the Virtual College grew by 639 students, from 2,655 to 3,294, between the 20th day and the end of the fall 2003 semester. The total increase was 664 students, a hefty 9-percent increase from the 20th-day total.
The president pointed out that, significantly, 18 of the 25 additional on-campus students enrolled in the university's Graduate School. The number of graduate students both on and off campus grew by 96 -- a healthy 6.4 percent -- from the end of the 2002 fall semester to the end of the 2003 fall semester.
On the Virtual College side of the ledger, 507 of the additional enrollees were freshmen, which suggests that the higher numbers will remain stable over at least the next few years.
Fort Hays State University has drawn a lot of attention because of its innovative partnerships with universities in China. Of FHSU's total 3,294 Virtual College students in the fall 2003 semester, 1,336 were enrolled in China at SIAS International University, Hong Kong Tak Ming College and the University of International Business and Economics.
"Our relationships with Chinese universities have provided the critical mass that allows us to keep the cost of Virtual College classes low for Kansans, and the relationships have added greatly to the education experience of our on-campus students," President Hammond said. "Some of them have traveled to China as part of a seminar class, and we have Chinese students and faculty at our Hays campus. It's important to point out, though, that the majority of people we serve through the Virtual College are Kansans. We have Virtual College students from all 105 counties. We also have Virtual College students in 48 of the 50 states, with only West Virginia and North Dakota unrepresented in the fall 2003 class."
President Hammond said he attributes the university's tremendous growth to its high-tech/high-touch learning environment and to its "Affordable Success" marketing strategy. "The 'Affordable Success' message works because it's true," he said. "FHSU was already the best buy in higher education in the entire state even before severe tuition hikes last summer at other state universities made the gap even larger. Also, the 'success' claim can be substantiated by the 98-percent job placement rate for our graduates in the 2001-02 academic year, and by numerous victories in academic competitions.
"For example, our Financial Planning students won the national American Express Financial Planning Invitational in 2001 and 2002 and finished third in 2003. Our debate team won the Cross-Examination Debate Association National Championship in 2002. The cross-country team has had the highest collective grade point average in NCAA Division II for the past two years and three of the past six years, and the wrestling team boasted 16 Academic All-Americans for the 2001-2002 season. Graphic Design students swept the top four awards at the regional American Institute of Graphic Artists competition in 2003 after taking six of the eight awards in 2002. Our Technology Education Collegiate Association students won two national championships during the 2003 International Technology Education Competition."
The president said the high-tech part of the equation for FHSU's learning environment included free Internet access for students, access to computers in residence halls and throughout academic buildings, and computer literacy and flexibility for all students. He said the high-touch components included close personal attention from professors, with an average 17:1 student-faculty ratio in classrooms, personalized advising and more than 90 percent of classes taught by full-time faculty rather than adjunct faculty or graduate teaching assistants.