Fort Hays State University, which has led other state schools in enrollment growth by leaps and bounds for nearly a decade, passed another milestone this week with an official 20th-day headcount of 11,308 students.
It was just a year ago, on the 20th day of the fall 2008 semester, that FHSU first exceeded the 10,000 plateau, with an official enrollment of 10,107 students. The increase of 1,201 students represents growth of 11.9 percent over the past year. 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.
In announcing the enrollment numbers, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, also called attention to the record number of Kansans who are enrolled either on campus or at a distance.
"There is a tendency for enrollments in higher education to increase during tough economic times, as displaced workers return to school and other workers seek new skills that will help them advance in the tighter job market," he said. "Our 20th-day enrollment report shows that the number of Kansans enrolled at FHSU climbed by 459 to a record 5,963, which is an 8.3-percent increase from 5,504 in fall 2008. The demand for higher education is increasing in Kansas, and we are being responsive."
President Hammond pointed out that the number of new freshmen on campus had increased significantly. There are 825 new freshmen, an increase of 58, or 7.6 percent, from 767 new freshmen on campus on the 20th day of the fall 2008 semester. "The high number of new freshmen is an indicator of continuing growth in years to come," he said.
The university's growth has special significance this year in the wake of the nationwide financial collapse last October that necessitated budget reductions for all of the schools in the Regents system.
"With a 14-percent reduction in our state general fund budget from a year ago, we identified growth as one of the components in our four-part budget strategy, along with implementation of efficiencies in our operations, an increase in tuition, and budget reductions within individual offices and academic departments," the president said. "It was imperative that we continue to grow and find new efficiencies so that we can hold down tuition increases and operational budget cuts. The enrollment growth of nearly 12 percent exceeded even our expectations."
FHSU has been far and away the fastest growing university in the Regents system for the past several years. Over the most recent five-year reporting period -- from fall 2003 to fall 2008 -- FHSU's enrollment grew 37.1 percent. The second highest growth rate during that period was 5.9 percent at Pittsburg State University.
In addition to headcount, FHSU also set a record for the total number of credit hours that all those students have enrolled in, at 102,737. It was the first time the university exceeded the 100,000 plateau for student credit hours.
"It's also significant to note how the student credit hours break out," the president said. "Our success internationally has created a false impression that most of our distance teaching is done at our partner universities in China, but that is not the case. Of the more than 100,000 hours that we teach, 51,079 are taught on our Hays campus, 18,852 are taught in China and 32,806 are taught through our Virtual College in Kansas and nearly every other state in the nation."
Once again, total headcount enrollment in FHSU's Virtual College, including China, led the overall growth. The Virtual College enrollment on the 20th day was 6,965, an increase of 1,161 students, or 20.0 percent, from the 20th day enrollment of 5,804 in the fall 2008 semester. The Virtual College headcount includes 3,211 students in China, where FHSU continues to be the leading provider of undergraduate education that is not a Chinese university.
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 on-campus 20th-day enrollment also grew. The on-campus headcount for fall 2009 was 4,343, an increase of 40 students, or 0.9 percent, from the fall 2008 enrollment of 4,303.
Also, FHSU saw a significant increase in the number of Hispanic students. That enrollment grew by 50, or 18.2 percent, from 274 last fall to 324 this year. "This is an important achievement both for the benefit of this segment of the Kansas population and because we targeted increased Hispanic enrollment as one of the goals in our annual Performance Agreement with the Board of Regents," the president said.
President Hammond thanked faculty and staff for their efforts in producing 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, and it is our affordability coupled with our high quality that drive this growth," he said. "We are a university that believes students, faculty and staff should be forward thinking and world ready, and our continued growth is just one more proof of our ability to find solutions through innovation and hard work."