Coming off perhaps the most successful term in the school’s 134-year history, Kansas Wesleyan launched its spring semester on Jan. 19.
KWU’s recent progress is signified in part by the university’s first new, on-campus exclusively academic building in more than 50 years – the Nursing Education Center. The building opened for classes on Jan. 12, completing a true community project heavily influenced by the donations of Salina Regional Health Center and its foundation. All contractors and subcontractors for the Nursing Education Center were local businesses whenever possible, a reflection of KWU’s estimated $40 million annual economic impact on the Salina community.
The Nursing Education program is just one example of the university’s extensive influence in the community and the region. Going forward, the facility helps remedy a shortage of nurses in north-central Kansas. Already, many of KWU’s Nursing Education graduates remain in the region to work at the Salina Regional Health Center.
Currently, Kansas Wesleyan sits just outside the top-15 employers in Salina with 144 full-time employees. Last year, KWU faculty served in leadership roles with nearly 25 different local organizations. In addition, school alumni hold important positions throughout the county, including the county treasurer and director of emergency management.
“All of us at KWU are thankful to be part of the wonderful Salina community,” KWU President, Dr. Matt Thompson, said. “In a traditional school year, we offer over 14,000 hours of internship, job shadowing and community service opportunities to our students, all here in north-central Kansas. We know that our success is due, in so many ways, to the community support we receive, and we are proud to give back to the community.”
Enrollment is another sign of KWU’s recent success, as the university reached its highest enrollment figures in nearly a decade, this past fall. Retention rates indicating the number of students who stayed at KWU for the last two years are the best in school history.
Spring enrollment is also trending upward for new and returning students. Academic success is following suit, with 264 students earning honor roll laurels during the fall, an increase over the previous semester’s efforts. The school’s placement rate continues to be outstanding, as 99 percent of graduates from the past five years were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.
Financially, Kansas Wesleyan recently concluded the best six months of fundraising in school history, helped by two particular gifts. In November, a $4 million-gift from the estate of the late Dale Olson marked the largest in school history. Mac Steele’s $1 million-donation for Nursing scholarships followed shortly thereafter, placing KWU’s endowment at its highest figure in school history.
“We are so thankful for the generous giving from alumni and friends during these past several months,” Dr. Thompson said. “This support is crucial in helping us meet student needs, improve our facilities and realize the ambitious goals we have for our community.”
Fueled by the recent on-campus improvements and determined to provide the best higher education experience possible, KWU administration felt it was particularly important to continue the on-campus experience in 2021. While multiple universities across the state started classes online, KWU began the spring semester on-ground. A seven-day quarantine was required for students before they could participate in activities or in-person classes.
“One of the reasons we’ve remained on-ground is we believe it’s the best way to serve our students,” Dr. Thompson stated. “Being on-ground enables students to have direct contact with professors, tutors, labs and other educational outlets, thereby helping improve the educational process itself. The on-ground experience also allows students to be immersed in the KWU community in countless ways. This is especially vital because 57 percent of our students come from out-of-state. The availability of additional mental and spiritual health resources – at no cost to the students – is an important part of those support services.”
The year 2020 was marked not only by COVID-19, but a litany of other stressful national and international events that affected students. KWU recognized the resultant need, increasing the availability of mental and spiritual health resources. Campus Ministry continued to expand its small group Bible studies and weekly praise opportunities. The university also implemented “Let’s Talk,” a free program offering weekly, on-campus visits with a licensed counselor. The program is available to faculty, staff and students.
Mental health was also a focus with KWU’s newest addition, a campus dog that will be accessible to students. Students can sign up for sessions with the dog that are aimed at reducing stress and encouraging connection.
Progress on campus is also demonstrated through KWU’s continued commitment to the environment, particularly with nearly $5 million of capital improvements. Those enhancements include renovated classroom spaces and considerable energy-saving work on HVAC systems throughout KWU buildings. This fall, reusable trays were issued to each student on a meal plan, dramatically reducing the use of Styrofoam by dining services.
Along with environmental commitment, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) continues to be a critical element of campus life. KWU was among the first schools in the state to provide educational opportunities to minorities and women, and was an early leader in the development of organized women’s athletics opportunities in Kansas. Now, KWU faculty are engaged in implementing new, progressive strategies to promote DEI in the classroom. The university’s DEI committee also works to help promote these ideals throughout the KWU community.
“All of our recent successes have been because of unified, campus-wide efforts,” Dr. Thompson said. “Whether it was the completion of the Nursing Education Center, our staff creating a more open, welcoming environment for all, or the significant additions in student support services, the KWU family came together in new and exciting ways throughout the fall. As we move into the spring, I am excited about what we will accomplish next!”