If approved by the Board of Regents and state government, DC3 could become "Fort Hays State University at Dodge City," a four-year institution with a focus on advanced technical certifications and degrees.

The Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees is expected to approve a long-simmering proposal to bring the college under the administration of Fort Hays State University, creating the first public four-year degree granting institution in southwest Kansas.   

The centerpiece of "FHSU at Dodge City" would be an "Institute of Applied Technology," a cooperative curriculum program that draws from the needs of corporate and industry partners.

FHSU will also teach other four-year programs at the campus based on demand. Lower division courses, those typically taken by college freshmen and sophomores, will remain essentially as they are now under the proposal.  

"A lot of its still preliminary … but it looks exciting in terms of the future, enhancing what Dodge City Community College is doing extremely well," said DC3 Board Chairman Merrill Conant.

The opportunity to bring four-year degree programs and a technical institute to southwest Kansas far outweighs any conflict about the administration of the college's academic programs, Conant said.

Conant said he and the trustees have had broad ranging discussions about the proposal, looking at the pros and cons of the proposed arrangement.

"We've had some spirited discussions among the trustees. Any kind of big thing like this you want to have open and thorough discussions, and we believe we've done that."

"I think we'll be able to come to a consensus that we want to move forward in terms of next steps on this," Conant said of the vote scheduled for Tuesday evening.

The agreement has a long way to go. In the proposal, the campus is referred to as "FHSU at Dodge City," but that could change as the proposal matures.

Once approved by the DC3 Board of Trustees, the plan would have to be approved by the Board of Regents, Legislature and governor. It would also require $10 million to construct a new technical institute building and $5 million per year in state funding.

The merging of DC3 into FHSU solves a problem the governor's office, Legislature and Dodge City area leaders have contemplated for years, FHSU President Edward Hammond said — finding a way to bring advanced higher education to the southwest part of the state without the cost of creating a new state university.  

The plan has received support from Gov. Sam Brownback, who allowed Hammond and members of a fact-finding mission use of a plane to visit the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, a model for FHSU at Dodge City, Hammond said.

A spokesperson with the governor's office declined to comment on the proposal or the governor's involvement. Likewise, a spokesperson with the Board of Regents declined to comment.  

If approved, the plan could change not only the local impact of DC3, but on all of southwest Kansas and the state, Hammond said.

"It's a game-changer, I think."

For one, the technical training institute would allow up to 1,000 students to be admitted per year, potentially 4,000 students if they all followed through with a four-year track.

After four years, the student population of DC3 could triple from roughly 2,000 to 6,000 Hammond said. This would require new housing, and provide an easily tapped market for student housing.

In addition to enhancing the higher education opportunities in southwest Kansas, the integration of DC3 into an FHSU campus is looked to as a way to recruit business to the state, Hammond said.

The technology institute would rely on 10 corporate partnerships to "formulate individualized curriculum that serves the students, the state and industry needs."

Students would be able to progress through the program in steps and the programs are to be designed with "stop-outs" and re-entry points which, at each stage, would grant the student with a certificate or a degree.

Students would spend some number of semesters in the classroom, and then a semester in a business environment, merging education with internships so that each step would provide the student with the skills needed to get a job.

The end-point of each program would be a four-year technical degree.

Under the proposal, the local mill levy will continue to be collected "as deem[ed] necessary" to fund operations, athletics, scholarships and for existing indebtedness held by the community college and other purposes determined by the Board of Trustees.

All full-time employees of DC3 would become employees of FHSU. There will be no jobs eliminated, and no cuts to salary, Hammond said. Fringe benefits for full time employees will be better than those currently offered by DC3, he said.

Hammond will be meeting with faculty members on Friday to discuss the changes.

If approved, tuition and fees will be determined not by the Board of Trustees, but by the Kansas Board of Regents, as with all other state universities.

Rather than creating its own competition, the integration of DC3 into FHSU would enhance the programs offered by the university, Hammond said. While there may be some overlap between programs taught in the non-technical baccalaureate programs, more than half the students at FHSU at Dodge City will be in technical programs not currently offered by the university.

A combination of traditional in-classroom courses and virtual courses will provide degree options for baccalaureate students outside the technical institute.

"We see it as a win-win," Hammond said. "It creates an opportunity for Fort Hays to better serve southwest Kansas."

Conant agreed: "It's an opportunity and that's how we're looking at it. We're anxious to look at next steps. We really think it's going to be a benefit to our community and as a college."