By MICHAEL STRAND
After 15 months as president of Fort Hays State University, Mirta Martin has had plenty of surprises.
one of the most profound surprises was talking to a person in Dodge
City — just 100 miles away — who hadn’t heard about the school.
It should be hard to not know about, considering:
It set a record enrollment of 14,210 students this fall, up 385 from
last year — even as the total enrollment for all five state universities
declined by 890.
• It has the second-lowest tuition of any public university in the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report.
• It’s preparing to set up colleges in Central and South America, similar to its long-standing operations in China.
Has for years hosted the Kansas Math and Science Academy, where high
school juniors and seniors can live on campus and study at the college.
• 100 percent of its nursing students typically pass their licensing exam on the first attempt.
• Is starting a three-year, $88 million campus improvement project.
• 80 percent of Kansas school superintendents were educated there.
What’s going on out there?
is on an annual statewide tour — a practice inherited from her
predecessor, Ed Hammond — to ensure more people know what’s happening
out in western Kansas.
What she’s been focused on in her
first year is ensuring Fort Hays is preparing students to contribute to
the Kansas economy and moving from “a culture of access to a culture of
Recruiting students remains a priority, she
said during a stop Wednesday in Salina, but it’s being joined by an
emphasis on keeping students in school and seeing that they graduate
with the skills they need — including being ready for jobs that don’t
Much of the job of “re-engineering” the
university, she said, was put into the hands of what she calls
“rank-and-file staff, no deans, no supervisors — and that was
deliberate. They know the holes and how things could be better.”
As a bonus, she said, “It’s not my vision, it’s our vision — I’m not the one driving the bus any more.”
Honors College started
of that process, this fall the university started an Honors College,
open to students with high academic qualifications. It also is providing
scholarships as high as full tuition and fees, room and board costs,
and $450 a semester for books.
“We made the decision to do that in February, and by then most people have decided where they’re going,” she said.
The university set a “stretch” goal of eight students this fall, and ended up with 16 — with an average ACT score of 31.
Learn to run a business
Hays is also completing an “Entrepreneurship Hall,” that includes
housing for 32 students and a first-floor community room that Martin
describes as a “great big play room,” with whiteboard walls that
students can write on to share ideas.
“People think it’s
for business majors, but that’s what we don’t want,” she said. “Artists,
scientists, all kinds of people need to understand how to run a
The university is
also in the process of splitting its College of Arts, Humanities and
Social Sciences into two colleges, one for arts and humanities, and one
focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
STEM fields all rely on each other,” Martin said. “And there are only
13 STEM colleges in the U.S., with none in Kansas and none in the
Creating the separate colleges, which requires
approval from the Board of Regents, will bring additional
distinctiveness to the programs, she said, and will help the college
attract more of graduates of its Math and Science Academy.
Recruiting more Hispanics
summer, Fort Hays is hosting a three-day Hispanic College Institute,
aimed at recruiting more Hispanic students — a group with traditionally
low college attendance rates, Martin said.
attendance at Fort Hays campuses in China slowly has been dropping for
several years, the university is looking to move into Central and South
America, where demand for higher education is growing.
is different there compared with China, and different from one country
to another, she said. In China, the focus was on business education,
while Latin American countries want English teachers, tourism and
hospitality programs, agribusiness and nursing.
not going out into the world with a cookie-cutter approach of what we
want to teach,” she said. “We’re finding out what they need.”
By MICHAEL STRAND