As Kansas University looks at ways to increase its enrollment, it might look at some of the creative approaches being taken by other universities in the state.
While KU recorded an enrollment decline of 3.1 percent on its Lawrence campus this fall, Kansas State University reported a 1.2 percent increase. The biggest increase among the six Kansas Board of Regents universities was 7.7 at Fort Hays State University.
How did they do it? By getting creative — in ways that benefit not only their bottom line but also the state.
This fall, Fort Hays reported the largest enrollment of its 109-year history, an increase from last fall of 919 students. The total enrollment for the school is 12,802, but only about a third of those students actually attend classes on the Fort Hays campus. A little less than a third are students at partner universities in China, a program Fort Hays started about a decade ago. Students in China take classes online or from Fort Hays faculty who travel to China on temporary teaching assignments. A program that started with 40 Chinese students in the fall of 2000 now enrolls about 3,600 students.
More than a third of the Fort Hays’ headcount comes from its Virtual College, which enrolled 4,504 students this fall, compared with 4,009 students last fall, an increase of 12.3 percent. According to a news release from the school, the Virtual College “makes a college education accessible to students who might not be able to relocate to a university community.” Courses are delivered through various formats including interactive TV, video, CD-ROM and the Internet.
Some observers may wonder how providing classes to 3,600 students in China benefits Kansas, but it has been part of a winning strategy for Fort Hays. At the same time enrollment is rising in China, it also is rising on the Hays campus and in its Virtual College program.
K-State also is reaching out across the state in ways that are likely to add to the modest enrollment increase it recorded this year. On Wednesday, K-State signed an agreement that will allow students to receive associate degrees from Garden City Community College and then use distance learning tools to earn bachelor’s degrees from Kansas State. Degree programs will be available in family studies and human services, interdisciplinary social science, fire science, business and avionics.
According to news reports, K-State plans to sign similar agreements with Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Allen County Community College in Iola and Barton County Community College in Great Bend. With modern communications technology, geography isn’t much of a factor in these relationships. Nonetheless, it’s notable that, while El Dorado and Great Bend are closer to K-State than KU, Iola is only about 80 miles from Lawrence and 160 miles from Manhattan.
Such K-State partnerships are a real asset to the state because they extend the reach of higher education and contribute to the “seamless” higher education system envisioned by state legislators when they brought community colleges and vocational-technical schools under the Kansas Board of Regents’ umbrella.
KU is filled with wonderful tradition, but the school shouldn’t let that tradition get in the way of being creative about meeting students’ higher education needs. There certainly have been some efforts in that direction, such as classes offered online or at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park, but the trends at schools like Fort Hays and K-State suggest that KU might benefit from getting more creative in building its outreach and its enrollment.