Fort Hays State University’s Virtual College, a recognized national leader in distance education in terms of both cost — in the lowest 2 percent in the nation — and quality, including “Best Online Program” awards from U.S.News & World Report, has gathered resources to expand its outstanding student experience in online learning.
The Virtual College broke new ground late last year by creating a dedicated Student Engagement and Advising Center for its online students and is now adding six full-time faculty positions to serve students wherever they are.
One full-time faculty member has been added to the areas of management and marketing, nursing, English, advanced education programs, mathematics, and communication.
The additional faculty, said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College, will address “bottlenecks in programming,” especially for courses that are required for various degree programs.
“The value of FHSU’s online programs in terms of quality and affordability has resulted in demand for our online classes that often exceeds our capacity to provide for all the students who want to enroll,” said King. “We were recently recognized in the Chronicle of Higher Education as the third-fastest-growing university in the U.S. over the past 10 years. In the past five years, we have grown four times faster than any other Kansas public four-year school. These new faculty positions will allow us to serve many more students who want to join us.”
The new advising center, established and staffed last fall with an investment of about $400,000, provides comprehensive advising for Virtual College undergraduate students. The advising is geared to the specific needs of adult online learners. Advisors were hired for each of FHSU’s four colleges — the College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Technology, and the College of Health and Life Sciences.
“We put seven full-time advisors in place just for online students,” said King. The investment in advising was “part of a strategic plan to grow the Virtual College and continue to improve the quality of our courses.”
The faculty additions also were part of that plan. “This was the logical next step,” said King.
“Since its inception during the 1997-98 academic year, our Virtual College has been a trailblazer in offering high-quality distance education through the Internet and other media,” said FHSU President Edward H. Hammond. “We have grown our online programs strategically, ensuring that the support systems our online students need to help them succeed are in place and readily accessible.”
Distance education at Fort Hays State began in 1911. The Kansas Legislature had just established a requirement for teachers to obtain additional educational credits during the summer, but rural school teachers, especially in the western part of the state, did not have the money to attend because of a disastrous wheat harvest that year.
The faculty of what was then the Western Branch State Normal School voted to provide the education by correspondence, free of charge. A new department was created, the Correspondence Department. The Branch Normal School — educating teachers — eventually became Fort Hays State University and the Correspondence Department became today’s FHSU Virtual College.
In 1999, the Virtual College took its programs online. Today, Fort Hays State makes 23 bachelor’s degree programs available through the Virtual College. One of them, the Bachelor of General Studies, has 16 concentrations available.
Seventeen master’s programs are available through the Virtual College. The Master of Business Administration program has 11 concentrations, the Master of Liberal Studies has 17 concentrations and the Master of Professional Studies has 10 concentrations to meet the career aspirations of students and the needs of employers in Kansas and throughout the nation.
“FHSU’s Virtual College is a game changer in distance education,” said King. “Working families are trying to get an education and deal with adult issues — job or career, family issues and all the other things that adults deal with every day. Specialized advising, dedicated faculty who deliver top-quality online courses, specialized support for military personnel and veterans, early-alert systems to help us identify students who are at risk, a dedicated Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technologies and other initiatives are all part of our ongoing efforts to help students succeed academically.”
The FHSU Virtual College has been recognized by U.S.News & World Report in each of its three annual evaluations of online education as one of the elite universities in the nation for the quality of its online programs, most recently in January this year.
Based on the statistical data provided to U.S.News by FHSU, four programs were rated highly compared to their peers in the United States:
¥ For online bachelor’s degrees, FHSU ranked 16th.
¥ For online master’s degrees in education, FHSU ranked 20th.
¥ For online master’s degrees in business, FHSU ranked 64th.
¥ For online master’s degrees in nursing, FHSU ranked 71st.
FHSU was the top-ranked university in the state of Kansas for each category except online nursing, where the University of Kansas was ranked 24th.
Many Virtual College programs have been rated as among the most affordable in the nation by GetEducated.com, a consumer group that ranks the most affordable online degrees. GetEducated’s most recent evaluation ranked three different FHSU online master’s degrees as most affordable out of 3,187 different programs nationally.
King said that the expansions in advising and faculty are “only a small part of what we are going to do over the next year.”
“We have some amazing initiatives in the works now,” he said. “Fort Hays State University and the Virtual College are trend setters, and we will continue to be for the foreseeable future.”
—Press release via FHSU