Fort Hays State University passed a milestone earlier this week that few would have imagined just a few short years ago. On Monday, the official 20th day of the fall semester, the university reported an enrollment of 10,107 students.
The fall 2008 enrollment total surpassed the fall 2007 20th-day enrollment of 9,588 students by 519, an increase of 5.4 percent. The 20th day of classes is the official enrollment day observed by the Kansas Board of Regents at each of its six universities to provide a standard basis for comparison.
"We had set a goal of surpassing 10,000 students by the year 2010, but the pace of our growth has been so rapid in recent years that I am not at all surprised that we passed 10,000 this year," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president.
Once again, enrollment in FHSU's Virtual College -- students who do not take any on-campus classes -- led the growth. The Virtual College enrollment on the 20th day was 5,804, an increase of 649 students, or 12.6 percent, from the 20th day enrollment of 5,155 in the fall 2007 semester. The Virtual College delivers courses to students at locations and times that fit their busy schedules. It delivers "mediated" 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 interactive television, video, CD-ROM and the Internet. The majority of the Virtual College students are Kansans, but FHSU also has more than 2,000 Virtual College students in China.
The on-campus 20th-day enrollment fell from a year ago. The on-campus headcount for fall 2008 was 4,303, a decline of 130 students, about 2.9 percent, from the fall 2007 enrollment of 4,433. Much of the on-campus decline has resulted from a phenomenon that became obvious in the past couple of years. Some students who live in Hays and nearby communities have begun to opt for the convenience of the Virtual College instead of driving to campus. President Hammond that has been a boon to local employers who are desperate for workers, because the students who stay home to take Virtual College classes have more time available for their jobs. In Ellis County alone this fall, there are 254 students enrolled at FHSU in only Virtual College classes.
"Because of their proximity to campus, Virtual College students who reside in Ellis and adjoining counties are different from other, more distant, Virtual College students," President Hammond said. "Many of them use university facilities, such as the library, meet face to face with instructors, attend campus events, and participate in activities. So, in effect, they act much like on-campus students."
Nonetheless, he said, the university is working to reverse the recent small decline in on-campus enrollment.
President Hammond also noted that while the university has more individual students in the Virtual College than on campus for the third year in a row, those headcount numbers can be misleading. "The bulk of education occurs on our campus," he said, "because Virtual College students take fewer hours on average than on-campus students. The total number of credit hours for on-campus students as of the 20th day this fall is 50,093, which is considerably higher than the total credit hours of 42,562 for our Virtual College students."
It is also significant to note that the number of Kansans enrolled at FHSU, for both on-campus and Virtual College classes, has increased over the past couple of decades. FHSU was serving 4,644 Kansans in 1988. By the turn of the century, that number had grown to 4,981 in the year 2000. And even with the huge growth in the Virtual College over the past several years, which includes students in China, some overseas military students and their families, and students in most of the other 49 states, the total number of Kansans enrolled in FHSU classes totaled 5,504 this fall.
The 20th-day enrollment numbers also reveal two other areas of growth. The number of Hispanic students at FHSU has grown from 93 in 1998 to 132 this fall, an increase of 42.0 percent. Likewise, the number of black students at FHSU has grown from 54 in 1998 to 71 this fall, an increase of 31.5 percent.
President Hammond thanked faculty and staff for their hard work in managing the university's record growth over the past several years. "We depend on our faculty and support staff for our high level of academic rigor," he said.