Virtual College earns recognition
By Elizabeth Golden
By Elizabeth Golden
Special to the Telegram
(MCT) — The Virtual College at Fort Hays State University has been recognized as one of the most affordable degree programs by onlineu.org.
OnlineU is a nonprofit website dedicated to refocusing the higher education conversation around affordability and quality.
"We are trying to migrate the conversation away from prestige and selectivity," said Kimberly Wetter, head of marketing at SR Education Group.
"We're trying to start talking about affordability and quality. We started this research because student debt is out of control, and we wanted to change the way people thought about online education."
Tuition costs for the virtual college are $186.50 per credit hour for undergraduate and $251.38 per credit hour for graduate coursework.
OnlineU listed the 20 top universities in the 25 most popular programs of study.
"FHSU really showed a strong commitment to affordable degrees across the board," Wetter said. They're offering the most popular degrees to earn online at one of the most affordable prices in the nation."
The early childhood education and the teaching program were ranked in the top five after the company researched more than 2,000 universities.
"These ranks are a great way of indicating the quality of the Virtual College," said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and learning technologies. "We can't afford traditional advertising, so what we do is take that money we would spend other places and put it back in our programs. We don't have that advertising budget. This is a way for us to advertise on a national and international scale, and do it by offering quality programs that an affordable price."
The Virtual College has been in existence since 1998.
"We were an early adopter of online education," King said. "We have a culture on campus. Our faculty and staff are hired with the idea that they will be working with Virtual College students and offering online programs."
More than 6,000 students FHSU students are "truly virtual," meaning 100 percent of their coursework is completed online. The university aims to reach 7,500 "truly virtual" students by 2020.
For the previous year, the overall number of students enrolled in online education dropped, but FHSU's enrollment increased by more than 12 percent, King said.
"In tough times, you have the option to either grow the university and take a small profit and reinvest the rest in the university," King said, "or to charge more, have fewer students and take a larger return. We've made the commitment that we rather serve 100 students and get a small return than serve 10 students and get a large return."
The average age for Virtual College students is 34, and the majority of students are from Kansas.
"It's our obligation to serve Kansans," King said.
"You see what (the Virtual College) means to them. You see the passion they have; the accomplishment of completing an education while raising kids, working a full-time job. What we do changes lives." Not just for that individual person, but for their families and every generation after that. We're changing history every time we graduate someone from a program."