Forward thinking. World ready. President Hammond uses annual media tour to discuss FHSU strategy

Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, will spend the week of Oct. 26 through 30 touring the length and breadth of Kansas to describe the challenges facing higher education and the strategies FHSU has pursued to ensure high academic quality during difficult times.

"As representatives of the Kansas Board of Regents described to business leaders during recent visits to several Kansas cities, state financial support for the Kansas higher education system has declined from a high of $853 million in fiscal year 2009 to $753 million in the current year," President Hammond said. "That represents a return to the fiscal year 2006 funding level at a time when Kansans need higher education more than ever."

The president said the strategy behind "Forward thinking. World ready." represents the attitude and commitment FHSU has made to overcome the state's financial struggles during the national economic downturn.

"In the last 10 months, the higher education budget has been cut by 12 percent and state funding for K-12 has been cut by 4.8 percent," he said. "So, while Kansans are seeking continuing education in order to become more competitive in the tight job market, all six state universities are having to do more with less."

President Hammond pointed out that the financial challenges actually go back further than last October's economic collapse. "Since 1988, state funding per student at Kansas Regents universities has declined by 20 percent while enrollment has increased by 13 percent. As a result, tuition costs have increased, and this has been true not only in Kansas but nationally," he said. "In 1988, state funding covered 47 percent of the cost of an education at Regents universities and students paid 16 percent. Those lines are now about to cross, with the state paying 27 percent and students paying 26 percent."

This trend in reduced state funding, if it continues, threatens the possibility that many Kansans may no longer have access to higher education.

"We are not content to sit back at FHSU and wait for things to improve," the president said, "and we know Kansans expect no less. Our Docking Institute of Public Affairs conducted an inaugural 'Kansas Speaks' survey this summer that showed, among other things, that 43 percent of Kansans favor increased funding for higher education and 91 percent say the funding should at least be maintained at its current level."

By adapting a forward-thinking strategy, FHSU has been able to keep the cost of education affordable. "We have generated new revenue through growth, we have implemented efficiencies to reduce operational costs and we have made some cuts in our operational budget," President Hammond said.

FHSU's growth has been extraordinary. "From 5,506 students on the 20th day of the fall 2000 semester, we reported 11,308 students on the 20th day this semester," the president said. "Our enrollment has more than doubled since the turn of the century."

Collectively, the six Regents universities had an increase of 1,435 students from last fall semester. Of that total, 1,201 of the new students -- representing 83 percent of the Regents-system growth -- were at FHSU.

Faced with a budget in the current fiscal year that was reduced by 14 percent from the previous year, FHSU moved to a four-day summer workweek and raised thermostat settings. University employees worked 10-hour days Mondays through Thursdays, and the university converted all but about 30 essential on-campus classes into Virtual College classes during the summer. The result was a savings of more than 25 percent in air conditioning bills. The university had implemented other efficiencies immediately after the financial collapse in October. Those included a savings of about $1 million a year by developing Virtual College classes in-house, more than $300,000 through academic reorganization and $875,000 by developing its own student record system.

Even with the growth and efficiencies, budget cuts of about 6 percent were necessary. "We had calculated that a funding reduction of this magnitude would require the elimination of 54 employees," President Hammond said. "Instead, about 30 positions were impacted,"

"As a result of our strategy of growth, efficiencies and budget cuts, we are the only four-year institution in the region that was able to keep tuition for in-state, undergraduate students under $100 an hour," he said.

Notable examples of the university's "forward thinking" approach include:
• The FHSU Virtual College combines the university's forward thinking with its commitment to global engagement. One of President Hammond's first initiatives when he arrived at FHSU in 1987 was to "electrify" the campus. The resulting technological edge in computing and telecommunications positioned FHSU to become the state leader in distance education, which meets the need for lifetime learning that has become the new model for higher education. FHSU has a fall 2009 enrollment of 6,965 in its Virtual College.
• The university launched a capital campaign in the midst of the economic downturn. "We announced the $60-million Cornerstone Campaign in September," the president said. "We believe the timing could not be better because nothing is more vital to an economic turnaround than higher education, which provides the trained workers to drive innovation and create new enterprises. We have already brought in $36.6 million in contributions and pledges."
• In partnership with Virginia Tech and several other universities, FHSU is constructing two Super Dual Auroral Radar Network antennas that will study the impact of the changing solar winds on Earth's near-space environment. "This is a project with worldwide implications," President Hammond said. "SuperDARN will help us understand the phenomenon that leads to both the beautiful northern lights and harmful effects such as interference with communications and electric grids."

Examples of the university's "world ready" approach include:
* China is the major new player in the world economy. Of its $1.9 trillion in overseas investments, $1.4 trillion is in the United States. It has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, with its gross domestic product increasing from $150 billion in 1980 to $1.8 trillion last year. Through its Virtual College, FHSU has 3,211 students at partner universities in China this fall, where FHSU continues to be the leading provider of undergraduate education that is not a Chinese university.
* FHSU continues to pursue other international relationships. Most recently, it entered a partnership with St. John International University, located in Vinovo, Italy. This fall, FHSU has nearly 300 students from at least two dozen nations studying on the Hays campus. "Engaging in the world does not necessarily mean leaving the country but having the capability to understand and compete in the global economy, especially as the United States enters a new era of sharing economic dominance," the president said.
* The Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science began its first year this fall. Established by the Kansas Legislature in 2006, KAMS is a premier early-entry-to-college program that provides exceptional high school juniors and seniors from across the state with a potent blend of college-level instruction by Ph.D. faculty, a high school diploma and 68 hours of college credit. The students live and learn on the campus of FHSU.

"The Chinese word for 'crisis' combines two characters that are roughly translated as 'danger' and 'opportunity,' and I think that describes the current situation in Kansas higher education," the president said. "We are at a crossroads. We've seen what has happened in Colorado, where the higher education system is basically bankrupt. About a tenth of our freshman class came from Colorado this fall because parents understand their sons and daughters can get a high quality education at FHSU at an affordable price. Kansans also understand the importance of higher education. That is why more than 40 percent favor increased state funding of higher education and more than 90 percent believe it should at least be maintained at its current level."

Following a news conference this morning on the Hays campus, President Hammond will visit at newspapers, radio and television stations, and with community leaders, alumni and friends of the university in 14 other Kansas cities. He will also visit McCook, Neb., where FHSU recently entered a partnership with Mid-Plains Community College.

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