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'Above-average' message hits the road

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The theme of his media tour this year is "Average is Over." Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond was talking about higher education.

Hammond, in his 26th year as president of FHSU, left Monday for a weeklong whirlwind tour across the state.

He is scheduled to make 31 appearances in 14 towns during a five-day span.

First, he addressed a crowd in Hays, in the Dreiling Lobby of Sheridan Hall.

"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," Hammond said.

"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."

After speaking in Wichita, Hutchinson and Great Bend on Monday and today, Hammond will return to Hays this afternoon in time for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in front of Sheridan Hall.

Then, early Wednesday morning, he will make several appearances in Clay Center, Kansas City, Olathe and Overland Park.

Thursday promises to be a long day.

After speaking in Topeka in the morning, he will board a plane for southwest Kansas to talk to people in Liberal, Dodge City and Garden City.

Friday's stops include Colby, Oberlin and Goodland before returning home later that afternoon.

Along the way, he will deliver the message that universities need to find innovative ways to achieve excellence to accommodate the needs of the people they serve.

He cited several "average busters" that have helped Fort Hays continue its academic excellence and record a 40.3 percent growth during the past five years. Those include departments that have earned national recognition, as well as a $68 million capital campaign that recently was completed.

Fort Hays is the fastest growing four-year institution in Kansas, and its enrollment of 13,310 this fall is the largest in school history.

Hammond also cited getting an education at Fort Hays "clearly is the best buy in the state," saying tuition per year ranges thousands of dollars more a year at other Regents institutions, ranging from $1,000 more at Emporia State University to $5,500 more at the University of Kansas.

"The results of high quality and low cost clearly can be seen at Fort Hays State University," he said.

An audience member Monday asked the 68-year-old Hammond his role in that high quality and how long he plans to stay at Fort Hays.

"Excellence reigns at Fort Hays because of the quality faculty and quality staff," he said. "The fact that Ed Hammond is here is a minor part of the puzzle. As long as the (Board of) Regents want me, I'm very happy here."