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SPOTLIGHT

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Dodge City merger

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Among the dozens of higher education institutions from throughout the country in attendance at Friday's inauguration of new Fort Hays State University President Mirta Martin, we couldn't help but notice Dodge City Community College was not among them.

Had a vote requested by the Kansas Board of Regents gone differently earlier in the week, we are confident DCCC President Don Woodburn would have been inside Gross Memorial Coliseum. It would have been in poor taste for a partner school to blow off such an important event at FHSU.

But since merger talks between the two schools broke off as a result of the vote, there apparently wasn't a perceived need for decorum. As petty as that sounds, it seems to be the case.

If so, it is yet another sign both Woodburn and half the board of trustees at DC3 are not reading the tea leaves correctly. We believe it is just a matter of time before this merger happens. The project makes too much sense for both institutions and communities to walk away from.

The notion of a Fort Hays State University campus at Dodge City, regardless of what it eventually would be named, is a golden opportunity. An industry-education partnership would create an Institute of Applied Technology on the Dodge City campus featuring three academic units -- a lower division college containing the existing programs of DC3, an upper division college offering baccalaureate degrees, and a technical institute featuring corporate sponsors. The proposal calls for a $10 million facility on the Dodge City campus to support the expected increase in enrollment, and offers FHSU an additional $5 million more in state money for operating expenses. The student body of between 1,500 and 1,700 in Dodge City was expected to double.

Probably most important from a student perspective, would be giving Dodge City a four-year institution for the first time since 1992 when St. Mary of the Plains College closed. In fact, other than the tiny private Barclay College in Haviland, it would become the only four-year institution in the entire southwest Kansas quadrant.

"Being able to bring a senior institution to the area of the state that doesn't have one so that individuals can have access to the American dream in their back yard is the right thing to do," Martin had said during the summer while discussions were ongoing.

Fort Hays State obviously wanted to pursue the merger. It made sense financially, expanded its mission and enlarged its student body. The Kansas Board of Regents endorsed the proposal.

Most in Dodge City wanted it as well. Twice the board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of it. It had support of the Dodge City Commission, Ford County Commission, Dodge City Ford County Development Corp., Dodge City USD 443, and the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce. A Docking Institute survey of current and prospective students revealed overwhelming favor.

Chamber President and CEO Dan Schenkein believes it has the support of 70 percent of the community as well.

So who didn't like it? Faculty and administrators who were swayed by rumors instead of facts. A president who believed the merger was being forced upon him. And, most unfortunately, three trustees who opted to derail the talks.

Again, we believe this to be a temporary setback. The steering committee in Dodge City hopes that is the case, as does FHSU.

"I definitely hope we can revitalize it and come to a consensus to move forward on it sometime in the future," Martin said. "There's a need for it."

It might take the defeat of a couple of trustees in the spring election, and perhaps even the retirement of Woodburn, but this merger will take place.

"Absolutely this has potential to resurface," Schenkein said. "If the Board of Regents leaves the door open and Dr. Martin is agreeable to revisit it in the future, this could happen."

Such optimism makes much more sense than snubbing Martin's inaugural festivities.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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