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From Hays to Iraq, FHSU reaching students

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Since its creation, Fort Hays State University's Virtual College has been a leader, said Dennis King.

That's just one of the reasons the university ranked high in the second annual evaluation of online education by U.S. News & World Report.

"We're the best buy," said King, director of the Virtual College and learning technologies. "It speaks to everybody at the university, and it speaks to all the stakeholders at the university, friends, alumni. Our best recruiters, our best storytellers, are our students."

FHSU also has been designated as a military-friendly school for a fifth year by Victory Media. The recognition is for the top 15 percent of universities working with the military to ensure student success.

In an effort to be military-friendly, FHSU has created a military resource center, student veteran association and student affairs initiatives to ensure on-campus services are offered to Virtual College students.

King calls it "one tiger experience. If you are a student at Fort Hays State, you get the same services."

Jeremy Carlton, an Air Force veteran, recently was named an FHSU military student success specialist.

He will be "acting as a liaison between the university and military personnel or veterans making sure all their t's are crossed and i's dotted in paperwork," he said.

Military students are disciplined and accustomed to working on timelines, King said.

"They're everywhere," Carlton said of FHSU military students. "They're not just in the continental U.S. They're in Germany, they're in England, they're in Afghanistan and Iraq. (I might) get an email or phone call right in the middle of the day from somebody ... serving on the front line or up in Afghanistan in the hills."

"It's difficult for someone to not get an assignment done when you have military students in class leading the way talking about what their day has been, which is a little bit more hectic than all of us, but still meeting course requirements," King said.

Besides working with the students, being a military-friendly school requires working with other universities and programs on quality standards, King said.

"Our programs are being reviewed by the Department of Defense and other schools," he said.

While there are some exceptions, most Virtual College students are age 25 and older, which requires a different recruiting approach such as attending military events and women's fairs rather than visiting high schools.

"We try to stay away from high schools," King said. "We want students who have the discipline of adult life and more structure in their life."

Carlton said in the past an associate's degree and on-the-job training was sufficient to move up the ranks in many cases. Now a bachelor's degree often is required.

Virtual College retention rates are "difficult to put together because we have adult learners," King said.

However, King estimates the rate at 25 percent to 30 percent.

There are more "stop-outs" -- students starting a program then having a child or job change or other life event change their plans.

That's "something you don't get in a traditional setting. Everything that we do fluctuates year to year."

Not all of the students have a goal of earning a degree. Some take courses for their career or a certification.

"It really is an exciting time to be in distance education and to see the quality of students we have," King said. "Faculty, staff, chairs and deans are what make it work. Our distance education offerings are not an outside entity to what we're doing. It's part of our mission. It's part of our goal. ... I'm real excited about the future."