FHSU enrollment tops 9,000 to break all-time record

Fort Hays State University, the dominant leader in growth within the Kansas Board of Regents system, set another all-time enrollment record with a 20th-day count of 9,019 students for the fall 2005 semester.

That surpasses the 20th-day enrollment of 8,500 for the fall 2004 semester by 519 students, or 6.1 percent. It also breaks the university's previous enrollment record of 8,957 students, which was the final count at the end of the fall semester one year ago.

"The size of this increase is evidence of efforts to curb enrollment growth that has been running around 15 percent a year," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president.

The 20th day of classes, which was Monday for FHSU, is the official enrollment day observed by the Regents for each of its six universities because it affords a standard basis for comparison. The official 20th-day headcount has become less and less relevant at FHSU, which is a leader in distance education. FHSU's Virtual College delivers courses to students at locations and times that fit their busy schedules, which means that enrollment at FHSU grows significantly throughout a semester.

Enrollment at FHSU remained fairly steady through the 1990s, increasing about 1 percent a year, but the trend of rapid growth began a few years ago when other universities in Kansas started implementing double-digit tuition increases. With a slogan of "Affordable Success," FHSU began to tout its lower tuition and its record of academic excellence, and its enrollment began to soar.

According to statistics released by the Regents office earlier this year, FHSU enjoyed an astounding enrollment growth of 53.6 percent from fall 1999 to fall 2004. During that same five-year period, Emporia State University saw an increase of 10.4 percent, Kansas State University grew by 7.4 percent, the University of Kansas increased by 6.2 percent, Pittsburg State University grew by 3.9 percent, and Wichita State University actually saw an enrollment decrease of 2.2 percent.

President Hammond thanked faculty and staff for their hard work in managing the university's record growth over the past several years. "Without the dedication of our faculty and support staff, it would not have been possible to maintain our high level of academic quality during these past several years," he said. The president especially commended Cindy Elliott, assistant provost for strategic partnerships and dean of distance learning, and Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and Learning Technologies, along with their staffs, for their efforts during the rapid growth of the university's distance education program.

Growth in the Virtual College continued to fuel overall growth at FHSU, with an increase of 708 students from fall 2004 to fall 2005. However, unlike other recent years that saw small but steady increases in on-campus enrollment, the 20th-day count for this fall saw a decrease of 189 on-campus students from fall 2004.

"I'm a little surprised and disappointed with first-time freshman enrollment," President Hammond said. "This is just further evidence that we need to aggressively recruit students from the 'turnpike corridor' -- Wichita to Johnson County -- where the population growth is occurring in Kansas."

The president also noted two other factors that influenced the decrease in on-campus enrollment. First, FHSU had an unusually large graduating class of 1,374 in May. Second, and more significantly, the number of potential college students has been in decline in northwest Kansas.

Part of the growth in the Virtual College has occurred through partnerships with universities in China, but all the fanfare surrounding those partnerships may have created mistaken impressions. The total 20th-day enrollment in the Virtual College for fall 2005 is 4,485, with just 2,279 of those in China.

Also notable in the 20th-day report was growth among minority students. The number of African-American students increased to 139 from 116 in the fall 2004 semester, an increase of 19.8 percent. Likewise, the number of Hispanic students increased to 195 from 176 in the fall 2004 semester, an increase of 10.8 percent. Recruitment of Hispanic students is an area of emphasis for FHSU in its performance agreement with the Kansas Board of Regents.

"I'm glad to see the growth in our minority student population," the president said. "Our student body is beginning to represent the diversity we enjoy in the general Kansas population."

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