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Progress 2013: FHSU's excellence promotes local prosperity

Average is over at Fort Hays State University, and that is a good thing for all of us.

In the past, students, faculty and staff with just average skills, and doing just an average job, could find success at universities across the country. That is no longer true.

At FHSU, we are committed to achieve excellence in education. As we continue to grow and excel, our success will contribute to the prosperity of Hays and this region.

Recently, one of our graduates, Seth Albin, finished in the top 10 nationally among more than 90,000 people who took the CPA exam. The FHSU team took first place in the National Financial Planning Championship. Students in the physics department have been recognized nationally for their research in laser biophysics. Likewise, students from the Department of Art and Design and from the Institute of Applied Technology continue to win competitions each year.

Those are just a few examples.

None of this happens by accident.

Instead of waiting for their junior or senior year, or for graduate school, students at FHSU get close personal attention from faculty and get to study and do research in their major field beginning in their freshman and sophomore years.

In addition to the high quality of the education they receive, FHSU students get the best buy in the state and region. The cost of a four-year degree at FHSU, including tuition, fees, room and board, is less than $30,000. By comparison, it is approximately $42,000 at Emporia State, Pittsburg State and Wichita State, approximately $64,000 at K-State, and $71,000 at KU.

The combination of high quality and affordability has had a predictable result. Enrollment at FHSU has more than doubled since the turn of the century, from 5,800 in the year 2000 to 13,310 at the end of the last semester. Our enrollment increased by 42 percent during the past five years, compared to the next highest growth of 5.7 percent at Pitt State. During that same period, enrollment declined by 7.7 percent at KU and by 13.7 percent at Emporia State.

From 2000 to 2010, FHSU was the fourth fastest growing university in the nation.

More importantly, our students graduate. During the past five years, the number of degrees conferred at FHSU grew by 20.3 percent, compared to the next highest rate of 16.2 percent at Pitt State and a low of 3.1 percent at K-State.

And they get jobs. We contact every student who received an undergraduate degree six months after commencement. Since last May, 95 percent had jobs or had been admitted to programs of advanced study.

We know that even the most powerful and successful organization can fail, so we are planning new initiatives to stay on top. When freshmen arrive on campus next fall, they each will receive a success plan that is tailored to their individual goals and abilities. Also, we are launching a required freshman seminar course that will teach academic success tips, engagement strategies, social opportunities and more.

As you can see, FHSU is not an average institution, our faculty clearly are not average and our students have proved they are above average.

Our success translates into success for the community. Recent building projects totaling more than $30 million, some of which still are under construction, have an estimated economic impact of about $45 million.

A recent study calculated FHSU's long-term contribution to human capital in the state of Kansas. Based on the additional earnings graduates who remain in Kansas will accrue as a result of the education they receive at FHSU, the estimated impact of FHSU graduates in 2010 was $131.5 million. The estimate for the long-term contribution by FHSU to human capital in Kansas is $1.3 billion.

Just as Hays, Ellis County and western Kansas support FHSU in so many ways, we are pleased to enhance the quality of life and provide a significant stimulus to the economies of this community and the region at a time when increased economic activity is sorely needed.

Edward H. Hammond is in his 26th year as president of Fort Hays State University.