Things are going well at Fort Hays State University.
The university currently enjoys its highest enrollment ever with 13,310 students and was recently listed in U.S. New and World Report as the 4th fastest-growing university in the United States for the period 2000 to 2010.
During that period, high school graduations remained flat across the state and actually declined by 17 percent in western Kansas.
Fort Hays has more than doubled its enrollment since 1999 when 5,496 students were enrolled.
"The factors that drive our growth are the quality of our academic programs and our price point," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of the university, during an interview at the Daily Globe offices Thursday.
Hammond attributes the enrollment increase at Fort Hays partially to virtual enrollments, which account for about 5 percent of the student population, and the fact that the university has been able to attract more students from the eastern part of the state.
Ford County sends 80 students to the FHSU campus; another 86 are enrolled in its virtual (online) college.
Hammond was on his annual press tour and also taking the opportunity to meet with newly-elected representatives to discuss legislative issues.
"There are 70 new legislators getting ready for the 2013 session and they are overwhelmed with information," Hammond said.
Hammond has been discussing a new strategy proposed by the governor that may have significant impact on the state's educational institutions.
"We see it as a circle with three parts: reducing taxes while expanding the business industry and creating more jobs are the two parts the governor has proposed. We suggest that the third component will need to be adequate educational funding to create those workers," Hammond said.
Hammond noted that current enrollment in Kansas universities is about 200,000.
"And we'll need at least 250,000 to meet the governor's goals," Hammond said.
Hammond sees the new jobs being created in three main sectors: composite manufacturing, the bio sciences and cyber security.
"We're already training people in technology studies. We're introducing a new Professional Science masters degree program and we offer computer engineering with cyber security emphasis," he said.
The school was named the designated center for Kansas by the National Security Agency.
"We're ideally positioned for what's ahead," Hammond said.
Hammond also suggested that construction jobs would be created and said that would be an opportunity for the state's technical and community colleges.
Cost of tuition across the six state universities ranges from $9,678 for the academic year at Kansas University to $4,233 at Fort Hays.
Among the academic strengths at Fort Hays, Hammond points to the financial planning team, which took first place in the National Financial Planning Championships, the fact that Fort Hays has more physics majors than Kansas University or Kansas State University, and the fact that the graphic design department is ranked number one in Kansas and number five in the U.S.
Page 2 of 2 - "Being average just won't earn you what it used to," Hammond said.
"Our state and nation cannot be successful unless we produce above-average graduates at an above-average rate of graduation."