Enrollment continues to climb: Tremendous growth in the Virtual College lends support to local, area economies

Today's release of the official 20th-day headcount for the spring 2008 semester continues Fort Hays State University's pattern of extraordinary growth that began with the 2002-2003 academic year.

The Kansas Board of Regents mandates that its six universities report their 20th-day headcounts each spring and fall semester to provide a standard basis for comparison. The 20th day for FHSU was Feb. 13, but classes do not start on the same day at all the universities, so the headcounts were not released until today, after the last of the six universities had reached its 20th day.

As of the 20th day, enrollment for the spring 2008 semester at FHSU climbed by 5.7 percent compared to the 20th day of the spring 2007 semester, with a count of 8,011
students compared to 7,579 a year ago. The enrollment for spring 2008 is an increase of 432 students from last year.

Enrollment at FHSU includes two categories of students -- on-campus students and Virtual College students. The 20th-day headcount tends to be misleading at FHSU because enrollments continue throughout the semester in the Virtual College, which delivers classes at a distance through the Internet, Internet Protocol Television and other mediums. For example, FHSU's 20th-day enrollment for fall 2007 was 9,588, but enrollment had grown to a final count of 9,824 by the end of the semester.

The Virtual College enrollment for spring 2008 is 4,056 compared to 3,408 a year ago, an increase of 648 students, or 19.0 percent. The on-campus enrollment for spring 2008, however, shows a decline of 216 students, or 5.2 percent, from 4,171 a year ago to 3,955 this spring.

"We analyzed the data to understand what caused the decline, and the explanation seems clear," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. "The Virtual College growth directly impacts on-campus enrollment. For example, we had 630 residents of Ellis County who enrolled in only Virtual College classes during one or more of the spring, fall and summer terms of the last full fiscal year, 2007. Until recently, those students would have driven to campus to attend classes, but the convenience of using the Internet has attracted them to the Virtual College."

He said the Virtual College option is a boon to the local economy, with its unemployment rate of only 2.7 percent. "Ellis County businesses are desperate for workers, and the virtual choice allows people to work full time and still attend college," the president said. "In addition, 25 percent of our on-campus students take at least one Virtual College class, so it also gives them greater flexibility to be part of the workforce either on campus or in the community."

President Hammond said the positive economic impact also is felt in neighboring counties, where people who traditionally would have driven to the Hays campus for classes now stay home to take Virtual College classes and have more time available for their jobs.

The president pointed out that because of their proximity to campus, Virtual College students who reside in Ellis and adjoining counties are different from most Virtual College students. "Many of them use university facilities, such as the library, meet face to face with instructors, attend campus events, and participate in activities," he said. "This does not diminish our determination to increase on-campus enrollment, but it does put this sudden drop into perspective."

He also noted that while the 20th-day headcount shows 4,056 Virtual College students compared to 3,955 on-campus students, the bulk of the university's educational efforts still take place in the traditional classroom. That's because while there are more Virtual College students, they take fewer hours of classes than on-campus students. As of the 20th day, on-campus students were enrolled in 45,220 hours of credit, compared to 31,218 hours for Virtual College students.

"Our growth has been phenomenal," the president said. "The most recent data from the Kansas Board of Regents shows that FHSU's headcount enrollment from fall 2001 to fall 2006 grew 62.1 percent, and the next highest growth during that period was Emporia State University at only 11.2 percent."

The president was emphatic that FHSU would not rest on its laurels. "In our 'Dare to Dream' planning for the year 2020, we place equal importance on both on-campus and Virtual College enrollment, with a goal of 7,500 for each. We are in the second year of a campaign to raise awareness of FHSU in the state's turnpike corridor, our efforts to attract more students from Nebraska and Colorado are beginning to pay off, and we are gearing up for recruiting efforts in the U.S. Southwest."

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Kent Steward, Director   |  ksteward@fhsu.edu  |  Kurt Beyers, Assistant Director   |  kbeyers@fhsu.edu