With financial support for higher education declining in states all across the nation, universities must find innovative ways to achieve excellence in order to meet the increasing needs of the people they serve.
"We know it was true in the past that students, faculty and staff of universities throughout our country with just average skills, and doing just an average job, could find success," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University. "That is no longer true. Today, average is over. Being average just won't earn you what it used to. Our state and nation cannot be successful unless we produce above-average graduates at an above-average rate of graduation."
Hammond is traveling the length and breadth of Kansas this week -- Nov. 26 through 30 -- carrying the message that average is over and declaring that support for higher education is vital for the state during difficult economic times.
Referring to them as "average busters," Hammond cited five initiatives that have been implemented or are being pursued at FHSU to provide the enhanced education opportunities that Kansans need:
· Based on the outstanding success of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science, which allows gifted high school juniors and seniors to live on the FHSU campus while completing a high school degree and 68 hours of college credit, the College of Arts and Sciences proposes a similar resident academy. The Kansas Academy of Collegiate Studies would provide a rigorous course of study that emphasizes thinking deeply and systematically through writing, discussion and inquiry. FHSU knows from the KAMS experience that many young people are ready and eager to do serious college work at the age of 16. The 25 students who are selected for the Kansas Academy of Collegiate Studies will live on the FHSU campus and participate in a two-year program of curricular and extra-curricular study and research in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
· The College of Business and Entrepreneurship is pursuing the world's leading international business accreditation. EQUIS, based in Brussels, Belgium, requires balance between high academic quality and professional relevance through close interaction with the corporate world. EQUIS attaches particular importance to an effective learning environment that fosters a sense of global responsibility. FHSU has about 3,500 students in China through its partnerships with universities there. Few other universities in America have internationalized sufficiently to earn EQUIS accreditation. This accreditation would open employment opportunities for FHSU's domestic and international students, raise its stature in the recruitment of students and faculty, and build relationships that will be valuable for Kansas businesses.
· The College of Education and Technology has purchased iPads and other mobile devices (Xoom, Thrive) for all faculty. The iPads are being used in classrooms and with Virtual College students. In addition, the new technology facilitates collaboration as faculty integrate apps into instruction. Instead of a book study this semester, faculty meet monthly and have a "Mobile Device Study" to discuss the latest apps and talk about what has been working. Also, the education faculty are developing apps for courses. The potential exists for expanded applications of this new technology.
· In the College of Health and Life Sciences, Dr. Eric Gillock and his fellow faculty members have also been innovative and creative in their support of excellence. Dr. Gillock was a driving force behind the development of the Western Kansas Center for Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. This Center gives Dr. Gillock’s students a unique opportunity to participate in high-quality undergraduate research.
· Forsyth Library went live this semester with cloud-based library services, called Alma and Primo, by the Ex Libris Group, a world leader in library services. Forsyth is the first of the "early adopter" institutions in the country to go live on Alma, a single, consolidated library system that manages print, electronic and digital collections. It replaces several systems at Forsyth that separately manage different aspects of library operations. The use of business analytics and real-time resource analysis tools within Alma allow the library to become much more efficient and provide an opportunity for cost savings. The new software also provides immediate access to the catalogs of the world's largest and most prestigious libraries. Ex Libris and FHSU are planning to partner on other expansions of technically advanced library systems.
Over the past several years, FHSU has implemented an array of efficiencies to deal with the economic downturn and to maintain academic excellence. Those efforts will continue.
The above-average performances by students and faculty have led FHSU to be the fastest growing four-year institution in the state of Kansas. The enrollment this fall of 13,310 is the largest in school history. FHSU has grown 40.3 percent over the most recent five-year reporting period, while two universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system have declined in enrollment and the remaining three have grown by 6.1 percent at most. This growth has assisted FHSU in many ways.
Over that same five-year period, FHSU's growth in serving Kansans was almost 20 percent, while three of the sister institutions served significantly fewer Kansans. FHSU is not only the fastest growing institution in the state, but it is the institution that is serving more and more Kansans year in and year out.
"Because of our growth, during the last two years we have been able to reward our faculty and staff with increases in salary of almost 10 percent at a time when most universities were not providing any increases and budgets were being significantly reduced," President Hammond noted.
He added: "As my mother used to tell me, the proof is in the pudding. Producing students with degrees, above-average skills and a history of success is what really counts. When you look at degree growth over the last five years, FHSU continues to stand out. Last year we awarded 20 percent more degrees than we did in 2006."
President Hammond said the most important evidence of excellence at FHSU could be seen in the success of students, but evidence also is abundant in bricks and mortar. "We have launched four capital projects that have a total cost of about $30 million and will have an estimated impact on the state and local economies of about $45 million," he said.
The growth that has been so important is the result of FHSU's emphasis on quality and also keeping a competitive price point in the student market place. "If you look at this year's tuition, which is the lowest in not just Kansas but the region, it is clear that we are not only providing a quality education, but we are providing that education at the most affordable tuition and fee level," he said. "The low tuition is critical because it means Kansans have a high-quality, affordable opportunity to get a college degree by attending FHSU."
During his annual weeklong Media Tour, President Hammond is visiting at newspapers, radio and television stations, and with community leaders, alumni and friends of the university in 17 Kansas cities.