While mention of the defunct Dodge City college is common, the proposed merger between DCCC and FHSU is about a new vision of higher education, college leaders said.

DCCC, FHSU merger

Something other than St. Mary's

Christopher Guinn

Dodge City Daily Globe

The ghost of St. Mary of the Plains lingers in the back of every room the proposed merger of Dodge City Community College into Fort Hays State University is discussed, but the comparisons evoke a theme more than fact, college leaders said Saturday.

"I think the idea of a four-year college in Dodge City is incredibly appealing," said Marg Yaroslaski, a faculty leader, but contends that proponents too often lean on an "emotional need" to replace the liberal arts college shuttered in 1992 rather than arguing the merits of the plan on the table.

"I feel we are dealing in make-believe sometimes," she said, urging the discussion to deal in facts, especially as a detailed proposal is drafted for the Kansas Board of Regents.

Clark Coker, the senior faculty member at the college, said the planners needed to make it clear that the creation of a traditional four-year institution was not the focus of the merger with FHSU.

Merrill Conant, the chairman of the DCCC board, agreed the language needed to more accurately describe the proposed institution.

"I think it is important for the community to realize that this project going forward is not going to be St. Mary's," Conant said, but instead part of a "new wave in higher education."

Conant refers to the desire for higher education addressing a "skills mismatch" between the labor pool and available jobs, an idea that has achieved a rare bipartisan consensus in Washington if not among state and federal economists. Last week, President Barack Obama proposed a $600 million program to connect community colleges with corporations.

A technical institute with corporate cooperation is the centerpiece of "DCCC at FHSU" and clearly fits this new vision for "hire" education.

"I think the trend of the country is the technical end," said Jim Lewis of Lewis Automotive Group, one of the principal supporters of the plan and a member of Gov. Sam Brownback's economic advisory council. "I don't think four-year college is going away, but we need the technical end."

The model for the DCCC technical institute is the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, primarily a two-year college with several Associate of Applied Science programs designed by industry partners like GM and Toyota.

It also offers some four-year programs, but graduates from those programs are by far the minority of degrees awarded.

According to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, known as IPEDS, of the 792 students that enrolled in 2006, 186 students received Associate's degrees and 11 received Bachelor's.

Of the 788 degrees awarded in the 2012 – 2013 academic year, 61 were Bachelor's degrees — 36 in information security, 6 in civil engineering technology and 19 in instrumentation technology.

DCCC President Don Woodburn said the cost of merging with FHSU — the loss of local control — needs to be met with equal or greater value in return.

Among the perceived benefits would be $5 million a year in state funding and $10 million towards the construction of the technical institute.

DCCC Trustee Floris Jean Hampton said it wouldn't be a safe to assume the money will always be available from the state.

"The state is notorious for rescinding funding promises," she said. "How many times have we seen it? Not just to community colleges but universities."

On OSUIT, Woodburn said "They just don't do things very well. It has to be better than what is being done down there."

The 2006 cohort of students at OSUIT had a 25 percent graduation rate within one and a half times the prescribed length of degree programs, according to the most recent IPEDS data, though the university reports that figure has increased by 9 percentage points in recent years after an intensive push for better completion rates.

Nationally, relatively few students graduate on schedule, so IPEDS data lags to account for other benchmarks of success, such as graduation at 150 percent time and 200 percent time in program. The three-year graduation rate for Associate's programs and six-year graduation rate for Bachelor's programs are standard measures of success.

DCCC has a completion rate of 34 percent at 150 percent time, according to IPEDS.

"We've got to develop programs in there that are unique to anything being done," Woodburn said. "We do this traditional two year stuff." And the college has its own technical programs, he added.

"If you look at the 15-year vision of what our four-year college could be, it could be awesome, it could change Dodge City, it could draw and keep people here, but we have to be careful going through this," Woodburn said.

Kansas Board of Regents member Shane Bangerter said industries spend $80 billion per year training workers, and the main thrust of the merger plan would seek to create an attractive labor market in Dodge City.

"We can align industry from within the state and outside the state with this technical institute and add, conservatively, 2,000 students," Bangerter said.

Previously, he said the estimated demand for four-year programs at the Dodge City campus was limited, but four-year programs could be added to the proposed upper division college as demand requires.

In the future, "FHSU at Dodge City," by any name, could do for Dodge City what 7,000-student Pittsburg State has done for Pittsburg, Bangerter said.

But first, "Let's walk down this road a little further. Let's put these work groups together. Let's see if we can get this thing financed," Bangerter said.

"If we can, it's going to be the greatest thing in the community than we've seen in a long, long time and will pay dividends to our children and our children's children."