Outgoing FHSU president requests continued scholarship support
By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
The bond the city of Hays shares with Fort Hays State University goes beyond the $2.6 million the city has awarded the institution since 1987.
The close relationship was evident last week during the Hays City Commission's work session. Outgoing FHSU President Edward Hammond addressed the commissioners and asked for $100,000 for the Hays City Silver Scholarship program.
Hammond recalled his first time petitioning the commission for the same level of support in 1987, and he touted the payoff.
"If you remember, I said if you give me the $100,000, we'll use that as seed money to grow the university," he said. "I think our data supports you made a very wise investment 27 years ago, and I hope you'll continue to do so in the future."
Enrollment grew from 5,200 students in 1987 to approximately 13,500 in fall 2012, according to figures provided by the university. The number of students receiving the Hays City Silver Scholarship increased from 52 to 382.
It has benefited approximately 18 percent of freshmen this school year. Ellis County students received $56,000 from the scholarship fund.
"The program objectives of this particular program are pretty simple, and that's to provide deserving students greater opportunity for higher education, and to be a catalyst for increasing community economic activity," Hammond said.
Students on the silver scholarship in the 2012-13 school year injected $1.8 million into the local economy, according to the university. FHSU's total economic impact on Hays and Ellis County in fiscal year 2011 was $209 million.
However, money is a limited measurement of the university's role. The college's footprint in the community is reflected in the commissioners' ties to the institution.
Mayor Henry Schwaller IV is an FHSU instructor, Commissioner Kent Steward is an FHSU graduate and director of University Relations, Vice Mayor Eber Phelps is an alumnus and occasional class speaker, and Commissioner Ron Mellick is an FHSU graduate.
Mellick said he had no intention of staying in Hays when he enrolled at FHSU in 1973, but he since has settled into the community. The commissioner said the university encourages population growth because many follow the same path.
Phelps said the city recoups its investment every year.
"I've kind of always said that the investment we make in the education, especially at Fort Hays, is a really good investment on our part," he said. "In fact, we realize a return on that investment, as I always say, on the day of enrollment."
Schwaller detailed the economic windfall.
"That means there are more students who are living here, and they're renting and even in some cases, buying property and generating property taxes, sales tax and so forth," Schwaller said.
Hammond said growing the university was top priority 27 years ago because enrollment had dropped for the previous six years. The city's annual contribution is one-third of the silver scholarship's funding, and it benefits from the university's success.
"I believe the city, through this partnership and others, has found a win-win relationship where the university wins and the community wins," he said. "When you have a win-win situation, it's easy to maintain it."
Although the $100,000 scholarship support was initiated in an era when FHSU was struggling, the president said he hopes the annual practice continues.
"I think the scholarship is a tangible sign of the partnership," Hammond said.
Amanda White, an FHSU senior from Chase, said she will be receiving the silver scholarship for the fourth year this fall. Knowing the city contributed to the fund made the assistance more meaningful, she said.
"I think it's really cool that they would donate that much every year," White said. "Just shows that they have faith in the students here, that they'll use it to better themselves, get their degree and maybe, hopefully, give back to the community when they get established in their career."
Commissioner Shaun Musil said his connection to the city's scholarship demonstrates the investment's potential reward.
"My wife, back in '96, actually received the silver scholarship," he said. "Twenty years later, we're still in town."
The city commission will determine any allocated funds for the scholarship program later in the budget process. Schwaller and Steward will not be able to discuss the scholarship support in budget deliberations due to the conflict of interest, but they can vote on the overall budget.