Hesston College is gearing up for another new school year and will kick off the 2019-20 year with opening weekend activities Aug. 16 to 18, with the first day of the fall term on Aug. 19.

The 2019-20 year is one of big transitions for Hesston College, as it launches its second bachelor’s degree program with aviation-professional pilot joining nursing in the four-year career program ranks.

But that’s not where the program growth will stop for the college.

Early in 2019, Hesston College administrators began unveiling a growth plan that gives the Hesston College of the future some distinct differences from the Hesston College of the last 110 years — namely, four-year bachelor degree programs in a handful of carefully selected academic programs by the year 2025.

The plan is called Vision 2025. It’s a future-looking strategy that offers experiences and degrees “infused with global, experiential and applied learning opportunities through industry and church-affiliated partners.”

“Our intent is to continue to add key four-year programs focused on careers and giving students viable job options,” said President Joe Manickam. “Right now, we’re exploring what those areas may be. We don’t intend to become a fully four-year institution. We will continue our current two-year model that equips students with a strong liberal arts foundation and life skills and helps them be better informed in making decisions for their final two years of an undergraduate program. This is a way for Hesston College to remain relevant in the ever-changing landscape of higher education and in the job market for students.”

The seeds for Vision 2025 were planted sometime in the last decade when administrators, faculty and board members began to take a careful look at trends in industry, employer and student demands, and consider them in relation to academic programs and overall growth in student numbers.

As a popular and thriving program, nursing was the first to take the plunge into four-year territory in 2015. The nursing industry had issued a vision for 80 percent of the workforce to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. With only an associate degree program to speak of, faculty and administrators knew they would have to make a change to remain relevant.

Four years later, the college is adding nearly 10,000 square feet of physical space to accommodate the program that has continued to thrive despite being the only four-year option on a two-year campus.

In January, the aviation program received approval from the Higher Learning Commission accrediting agency to join nursing in the four-year ranks with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation-Professional Pilot to be offered this August.

When Manickam took the Hesston College leadership reins in August 2017, he spent the first year of his presidency exploring the college at its core and what it meant for program offerings and student opportunities. The four-year nursing program was already in place, and plans were circulating for aviation, as well. But in considering the question “What does the world need from Hesston College?” Manickam recognized the possibility for even more bachelor’s degree offerings.

“The foundation of Hesston College is intentional community, Christ-centered discipleship and living out our Anabaptist values by looking globally, having a respect for everyone’s background and offering students relevant opportunities, support and direction so they can thrive,” Manickam said.

The development of any future bachelor’s degree program includes, in part, focus on applied work experiences, global engagement through transcultural experiences and connections with industry partners as a way to broaden students’ knowledge and understanding within their academic field.

With aviation, for example, these areas of focus include opportunities for students in their third and fourth years to be flight instructors for first- and second-year students in the college’s program or to hold internship positions with aviation-related companies in the area.

“Hesston College Aviation recognizes the imperativeness of preparing each student for their future aviation endeavors,” said program director Mike Baker. “Through the establishment of substantive industry partnerships, Hesston College Aviation will be better positioned to facilitate the successful placements of its graduates.”

Other programs that are now in the research and development phase for potential four-year expansion are business and engineering.

Even as the college looks to make changes, Manickam ensures that the Hesston College of the last 110 years will endure as the college’s mission, purpose and personality remain rooted in the same faithfulness and community that has shaped and carried it for more than a century. And the two-year programs, experience and opportunities aren’t going anywhere.

The language Manickam has used to introduce this concept to the campus community is “two plus two.”

“It’s the first two years at Hesston College with the same relationship-focused, nurturing, supportive environment we’re known for with involvement opportunities for first- and second-year students, followed by two years of a career-focused professional program either within Hesston’s professional programs or at whatever institution students transfer to,” Manickam said.

In addition to degree program development, part of the vision for increased global engagement includes the development of non-degree programs that are able to reach beyond the traditional student and enhance personal and professional skills.

In January, the college added a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) track to the nursing program that provides entry-level skills and knowledge to high school students and others exploring the nursing field.
The start of the new academic year will also see the launch of an Intensive English Language Program (IELP), which the college has been developing over the last year. The program will provide additional English language training to incoming international students to Hesston College, those attending other schools across the country and immigrants to the area.
A new ministry program, the Center of Anabaptist Leadership and Learning (CALL), will be developed during the 2019-20 year. The program will provide Anabaptist theology and nurture missional leadership for pastors and other church leaders in a distance-based format. Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg has been hired as program director.

“Hesston College has something to offer the world, and we are being beckoned to engage widely,” Manickam said. “God has been faithful on this campus for more than 100 years and the opportunities that are now before us are a testament to God’s ongoing care of the Hesston College community.”