If Dodge City Community College is to become part of Fort Hays State University, the process will have a long way to travel, President Don Woodburn told members of the faculty during a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

If Dodge City Community College is to become part of Fort Hays State University, the process will have a long way to travel, President Don Woodburn told members of the faculty during a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The Board of Trustees and he are dedicated to the core purpose of the community college, Woodburn said, and that any future agreements between DCCC and FHSU would have to maintain those central tenets, including its responsibility to provide affordable education to local students.

The final product, which Woodburn said will be the result of "massaging" from the concept outlined in the white paper written by FHSU President Ed Hammond, would have to address "a number of issues that need to be discussed, a number of avenues and approaches to look at. I think there are things we are going to be rather insistent on if this is ever going to happen."

College officials spent the day downplaying the importance of the motion passed by the Board of Trustees Monday night, and stated that an article in the Dodge City Daily Globe overrepresented the board's decision.

The white paper was "real general, not real specific, not set in stone," Woodburn said. "It's just a concept."

"Before this could possibly happen, we're looking at a minimum of three, maybe four years. It has a lot of steps to do," Woodburn said. "All we've said is, 'We'll look at it.'"

Following calls from other colleges and concerned student athletes, the athletics department sent a brief press release claiming that following the vote, it's "business as usual for Dodge City Community College athletics."

Woodburn said early into his tenure as the college's chief executive he met with individuals in the community about their desires to bring baccalaureate education back to Dodge City after the closure of St. Mary's on the Plains in 1993.

"Governmental officials in Topeka that approached us as said there was a possibility, a remote possibility at that time, that we might get legislative support to help us here at Dodge City Community College to establish a baccalaureate center," Woodburn said.

A fact finding group including members of the college administration, Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George, Hammond, legislators and community leaders visited the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology outside of Tulsa as an example, Woodburn said.

"It wasn't a bad model, it'd look pretty good on top of our college," Woodburn said.

Once the white paper was finished, "the board and I and our attorneys decided that what we should probably do is have the board pass a resolution saying they are willing to pursue it," Woodburn said.

"It hasn't been very secret from my point of view," Woodburn said. "They've been talking to me from Topeka about it for four years now."

"We had to get a concept, get something down in writing, so we can then get good discussion on the concept. I don't know how we could have done that otherwise."

After the meeting, Shane Bangerter, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents, said it "certainly wasn't our intention to keep the white paper secret."

Bangerter and DCCC Trustee Morris Reeves said the meetings between various officials in Hays and Oklahoma, the "so-called secret meetings," were not intended to obfuscate the proposal, and that following the final draft of the white paper had sought to get it to as many people as possible.

When asked what was discussed at the closed session on January 21 with FHSU leaders, the DCCC Board of Trustees, Rep. Bud Estes and himself, Bangerter said it was closed to discuss legal issues regarding personnel, transfers of property and other considerations that would need to be taken if approved according to the white paper.

During the meeting, Bangerter said he is going to inform the regents of the decision at the next meeting in April. He said the board will need to approve $5 million per year to finance the technical institute, the third, and largest, section of the proposed agreement.

"We have at least a year to start putting this together," Bangerter said.

If approved as presented, the technical institute would require $10 million for a new building to house 10 separate programs through corporate partnerships. Hammond says the program plans to admit 100 students per program per year.

The proposed concept for the college's conversion has similarities to a proposal to put Pratt Community College under the FHSU banner in the late with four or five baccalaureate programs and some graduate programs in education and accounting.

That process was initiated by then-President Bill Wojciechowski, who saw limited opportunities to grow the college when faced with a shrinking tax base and pushback from the community on the college's property tax levy.

Wojciechowski contacted Hammond to discuss some ideas, what emerged was "FHSU at Pratt," which would have ceded local control of the academic programs to FHSU and the local Board of Trustees would maintain the existing infrastructure. Also, the mill levy would have been reduced from 32 mills to 10 mills for local residents.

"If Fort Hays State is going to be the governing administration, then the state should pick up more of the costs for that branch campus," Wojciechowski said of the tax reduction.

If approved, Pratt athletics would have remained in the Jayhawk Conference, but since the majority of the funding for those programs came from the mill levy, sports would have needed to become more self-sufficient, particularly through booster clubs, he said.

"The community was very much involved. The board was very much involved. There was a lot of discussion with the Board of Regents. There was a lot of support for it," Wojciechowski said. "We felt there was a need for additional four year and graduate degree programs in western Kansas."

What ultimately killed the plan, Wojciechowski said, was that the Board of Regents was recently given some control of the community colleges, traditionally a major concern. Other colleges leaned on board members to vote down the proposal, fearing Pratt would be the domino to end home rule.

Western Kansas still has that need, Wojciechowski said. Once students go east to get degrees, it's very difficult to get them back west, he added.

"I think the climate is a lot better now," Bangerter said, and said the major difference between the Pratt plan and the DCCC plan is the technical institute. At the meeting Monday, he doubted the addition of non-technical four-year degrees would be a major draw to the school.

There have been recurring calls for a technical institute with corporate partnerships in the state, based on models used at other technical institutes around the country, but said he didn't believe any such proposal could survive the political process unless it was connected to a regents' school.