Despite potential state budget cuts to higher education, Fort Hays State University has almost doubled its enrollment since 2000 while reducing its operational costs.

    "We decided to do everything we can to keep our costs down and be efficient as possible," FHSU President Ed Hammond told the Daily Globe on Monday. "We learned how to operate more efficiently."

    Hammond was in Dodge City on his annual media tour, addressing topics facing Fort Hays students and alumni.


Despite potential state budget cuts to higher education, Fort Hays State University has almost doubled its enrollment since 2000 while reducing its operational costs.
    "We decided to do everything we can to keep our costs down and be efficient as possible," FHSU President Ed Hammond told the Daily Globe on Monday. "We learned how to operate more efficiently."
    Hammond was in Dodge City on his annual media tour, addressing topics facing Fort Hays students and alumni.
    College officials began making changes in 2000, when state funding declined for the six universities under the Kansas Board of Regents. These universities are facing the possibility of more funding cuts next year.
    In 2002, tuition paid for 22.5 percent of educational costs. By 2007, student tuition was relied on to finance 36 percent of the costs.
    In order to stabilize its tuition prices, Fort Hays found ways to lower expenses in several areas. The university also focused on increasing enrollment.
    "Just like a business facing economic challenges, we knew that we had two choices," Hammond said. "We could charge our students more, or we could serve more students. We opted to increase our enrollment so that we could hold down the cost of tuition and fees for individual students by serving a larger student body."

Increasing enrollment
    FHSU managed to increase enrollment from 5,506 students in fall 2000 to 10,107 in fall 2008, according to official 20th-day fall enrollment numbers for this year.
    Hammond said that focusing on student retention helped the college reach these numbers and saved money in the process. 
    "Over the last 10 years, our retention rate for freshmen has increased from 67 percent to 73 percent, which leverages into savings in our recruitment efforts," he said.
    Tuition and fees for an undergraduate resident student this year are $1,678, which is $285 less than the next lowest Regents university and $1,622 less than the highest priced.
    "From fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2007, we have reduced the cost of producing a credit hour by 4.2 percent, from $249 down to $238," Hammond said. "Meanwhile, other universities have seen increases in their costs."
    The average costs of the six Regents universities is $315 per credit hour, according to the Kansas Board of Regents Web site.
    FHSU officials also looked at lowering utility costs to save money. During peak times of the year, such as August, Hammond said the school uses generators to supplement its energy supply and keep utility rates down for the rest of the year. 
    "By installing generators to produce our own electricity during peak-demand hours, we have seen a net savings of $773,854 a year on energy costs," Hammond said.
    He said school officials are also exploring wind generation for more utility savings in the future.
    Relying on in-house staff in several areas has also lowered expenditures.
    The addition of an in-house construction crew has saved $2.4 million during the past decade, Hammond said. Instead of hiring outside contractors for maintenance and renovation projects, the college has created a permanent crew.
     An in-house staff was again utilized to develop online courses for the school's Virtual College at a cost of $3,000 to $12,000 per course, compared to $50,000 using other methods. Hammond said more than $1 million a year is saved through this program.
    "Our online program was a big part of the growth and helping us become more efficient," he said.
    The university also saves approximately $73,000 a year on paper and postage by moving enrollment and grades online.
    The Virtual College, which allows students to obtain 14 degree programs completely online, serves more than 4,600 off-campus students in Kansas and other states. Of the 84 FHSU students in Ford County, 68 take classes online.
    Improved technology at all levels has also saved money by reducing the workload of staff, which allowed the university to hire 42 more instructors since 2001. This helped create a 17-to-1 faculty-student ratio.
     Hammond said becoming more efficient in these areas has helped the university continue to offer quality programs at a reasonable rate. However, he said, further cuts at the state level will make the process much more difficult.
    "We're facing another slump, but a recent survey shows that Kansans do not support further cuts in state support for higher education," he said. "They recognize that higher education is more critical than ever to their future and the future of their children. At FHSU, we will continue to grow and we will find new ways to be efficient, but we can't afford further cuts in state funding."

Reach Cherise Forno at (620) 408-9931 or e-mail her at cherise.forno@dodgeglobe.com.