FHSU president: Kansans reap benefits from delivery of degree programs to students in China

Mason climbs from first-generation college student to president of state university

By: - October 18, 2021 9:28 am
Tisa Mason, president of Fort Hays State University, is a first-generation college student who became a state university president despite a high school counselor's advice that she skip college. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Tisa Mason, president of Fort Hays State University, is a first-generation college student who became a state university president despite a high school counselor’s advice that she skip college. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Tisa Mason graduated from a high school where the counselor recommended against attempting to earn a college education.

The advisor said she simply wasn’t bright enough to make it and that her family was unlikely to be able to afford the cost of sending her to a university. She went on to earn three college degrees.

“Now, I am the president of university,” Mason said. “So, I tell that story, not to brag, but to lift up other people who’ve heard the same message and knowing that if you work hard, and you come to a high-value institution like Fort Hays State University, you have an opportunity to move forward in your life.”

Mason, who earned a doctorate at College of William and Mary, has led FHSU since 2017. Previously, she served three years as president of Valley City State University in North Dakota. That followed six years at FHSU as vice president of student affairs. She’s been a student or worked for five other colleges or universities.

She said during the Kansas Reflector podcast that FHSU’s longstanding program of providing higher education opportunities to students in China was beneficial to students in Kansas.

“The money that we make off of China has helped us reduce our tuition for Kansans,” she said. “The special cross-border partnership that we have, where our faculty who live and teach face-to-face in China is unique, and has been very successful.”

In addition, she said, the international tuition revenue played a role in supporting the overall budget at Fort Hays. Stability in university employment benefits the economy in the Hays area, she said.

Mason said presidential vacancies at Kansas State University, Emporia State University and Pittsburg State University would be costly in terms of lost institutional knowledge. She said the openings weren’t a surprise, given challenges that confront higher education CEOs.

“Being a university president, in these days, is a very difficult job,” Mason said. “They’re 24/7 jobs. There are a lot of political environments to manage. What’s happening on your campus with your students? How are your faculty? Are you being innovative enough? Are you going to be able to change what’s going on with the Kansas border regions? Who are your bosses? What’s going on with the legislators?”

She said declining enrollment at Kansas Board of Regents universities and colleges was anticipated due to shrinking numbers of college-age Kansans. A more disturbing trend, she said, was slippage in the number of Kansans choosing not to go to college.

There are personal and economic costs of bypassing higher education, Mason said. There’s plentiful data that shows people who go to college end up having more profitable careers, she said.

“Sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious on the surface, but there’s a lot of benefits to going to college,” Mason said. “There’s so much more involved in a college education and learning about who you are as a learner and how you can contribute to society in multiple ways. Although we love to count degrees, which are really important, there are so many other benefits that are important to a well-run society.”

She said FHSU was among the more affordable universities with an annual tuition and fee cost of $5,400. The national average is closer to $11,000 and the regional average is about $9,000.

“It’s not just about the the money that you pay, but you want value. We know that we’re delivering a really good product. So if you want to go to college, there’s a great opportunity for you for you at Fort Hays,” Mason said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.