TOPEKA — The veteran president of Kansas State University and relative newcomer leading Fort Hays State University shared Wednesday with state representatives nuggets of achievement and future plans for those state universities.
K-State President Kirk Schulz, who arrived in Manhattan in 2009, said the academic profile of students had improved during the past decade, the freshman retention rate had grown modestly during the past five years and enrollment of minority students had doubled since 2000.
“We have a more diverse student body, a more academically gifted student body,” he told the House Vision 2020 Committee. “We have a very strong Kansas flavor. That’s an important part of our DNA.”
The ACT score of incoming freshmen at K-State rose from 23.6 in 2004 to 24.9 in 2015. The retention rate of freshmen at the university moved up from 81.8 percent in 2010 to 83.5 percent last year. In addition, enrollment of domestic, multicultural students at K-State grew from 1,716 in 2000 to 3,605 in 2015.
Schulz said the university was developing a complex of buildings capable of hosting businesses with a business connection to the $1.25 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which is under construction next to the campus. It will be a heavily secured laboratory financed by the federal and state governments for research on the world’s most toxic animal-borne illnesses.
The university has moved to a new personnel management system capable of reducing the time required to hire someone from four months to two weeks, and is expected to eliminate two-thirds of 140 steps required to affirm a hiring.
“The way we hire and the way we did human resources was very 1970s,” Schulz said.
Schulz answered before asked a question about how much longer Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder would remain at the helm of the Wildcats.
“I can’t tell you that, because I don’t know,” the president said. “We certainly want him to continue coaching as long as he feels good.”
FHSU President Mirta Martin, who became the university’s ninth president in mid-2014, told the House committee she had challenged faculty and staff to “shift our paradigm from a culture of access to a culture of completion.”
She said more Americans were attending college, but the percentage of young adults earning four-year degrees wasn’t keeping up with that trend.
“A big part of our job at Fort Hays State University is to prepare our students to be forward-thinking and world ready,” Martin said. “A college degree is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for young Americans to fulfill their dreams and their aspirations.”
She said the fastest growing component of FHSU was the online education program, which had expanded by more than 700 percent since introduced in 1998.
The Virtual College offers 26 undergraduate degrees and 13 master’s programs.
An undergraduate degree in computer science is to be added this fall, along with a doctorate in nursing practice.
“This growth is not only impressive because of its numbers, but more importantly, because of the accolades it has earned,” Martin said.
“Our full-time faculty teach in the Virtual School. They have responsibility for the rigor and excellence of the courses.”
Martin said FHSU would host the inaugural Hispanic College Institute this summer to attract the fastest-growing minority group in Kansas to Hays. It is a four-day, three-night residential program to introduce first-generation Hispanics to a university environment, she said.
“It will teach them how to navigate the American educational system,” the president said.