With conversations with institutions and local entities underway, Dodge City staff is making headway on plans to create Kansas’ first University Center, a hub of remote higher education that would allow students to earn bachelor’s degrees without leaving southwest Kansas.

Melissa McCoy, Dodge City assistant city manager, debriefed the Garden City Commission on updates to the project last week, breaking down rough timelines and the in-progress community partnerships expected to bolster the project. The Garden City and Liberal city commissions agreed to collaborate with the City of Dodge City on the project last September.

Overseen by the Kansas Board of Regents, the University Center would offer certain four-year programs from several public and potentially private universities through face-to-face, streamed and online courses. It would be stationed at Dodge City’s Hennessy Hall, the home of the town’s St. Mary of the Plains College, which closed in 1992, with satellite locations at Garden City and Seward County community colleges.

Staff has already discussed programming options with Fort Hays State University, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University and are currently discussing similar options with Kansas State University and several private universities in Kansas, McCoy said.

Ideally, students will be able to earn their associate degrees at local community colleges and then complete their bachelor’s or master’s degrees at the University Center, McCoy said last week. The center would initially offer paths to social work or various advanced nursing or health care degrees, and may ultimately expand to other programs, such as paramedic fire science, business, finance or education, among other options, McCoy told The Telegram last year.

Over the past several months, staff have spoken with the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance, the Kansas Health Foundation and NetWork Kansas about the need to develop the health care workforce in southwest Kansas and possibility of building regional coalitions to help meet that need.

The coalitions could give insight into local needs, including people currently working in the health care industry, McCoy said. Staff will work with employers to promote new and existing programs to employees wanting to earn new training, degrees or certification, she said.

“We’re looking at those individuals that are already in those career paths but maybe don’t have the degree to go on and fill some of those critical voids (in the workforce),” McCoy told the Garden City Commission last week.

In the meantime, Dodge City is currently working on renovation options for Hennessy Hall, McCoy said. The city has applied for two grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help remodel a classroom at the building and acquire necessary technology to broadcast classes to satellite locations, such as Garden City and Liberal. She said the classroom would be able to seat 50 students at once or be broken into two 25-student classrooms.

If the city receives the grant funding, the space could be operational within roughly a year, McCoy said, though the process is dependent on many factors, such as the city’s bid process. Several smaller southwest Kansas communities including Jetmore, Elkhart, Tribune, Scott City and St. John also applied for funding for the project, McCoy told The Telegram.

Once completed, the Hennessy Hall space will be used for university courses, as well as workforce training seminars that can be accessed across the region, including those smaller cities, she said.

McCoy said she was not sure when the Garden City satellite location would be available to students, but that the City of Dodge City staff will provide monthly updates.

“At the end of the day this is about helping develop our workforce in our area throughout southwestern Kansas and grow our own and providing those opportunities for our local people to further on their careers in more specialized areas,” McCoy said.

For now, city staff is waiting for more information about offering a bachelor’s of nursing from FHSU and to hear back from the USDA about their grant applications, McCoy said. Staff will also apply for more funds from the Kansas Health Foundation and other resources.

“Getting all of those pieces to come together is going to be really critical,” McCoy said.


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.