Since its start on June 10, 1988, Washburn’s Institute for the Study and Practice of Leadership has carried a target mission of preparing its participants to make an immediate contribution through leadership roles in their profession and specific community.
While many leadership programs are primarily fueled by those who have power and money, Washburn’s program took a different direction. The Institute’s director, Gary Forbach, explained that they were adamant about recruiting students who were willing to make the sacrifices and put in the work to become a leader.
“Leadership is not a position, it’s not a role, it’s not a place in society,” said Forbach. “Leadership is a relationship. It’s about teamwork. It’s not a quality that resides in a person; it’s the phenomenon that results when you get lots of people on the same track to something big and important.”
To this day, the program is available to any student interested in participating. However, the rigorous course content is what separates the students who are merely interested from those who are truly committed.
Students in the program are required to take three courses. The first begins in their freshman year and the two that follow take place in their sophomore and junior years of college. The fourth course in the sequence is labeled as a “practiceship” or internship that is completed in the senior year.
According to Forbach, this semester alone there are 63 students, ranging from freshman to seniors, who are currently engaged in the Institute.
“Twelve or 13 of those students are scheduled to graduate this May,” said Forbach.
Because the program requires a large amount of reading, writing and researching, almost 50 percent of students who begin the program in the fall semester end up not returning at the start of the spring semester. Although this has been used as a criticism against the Institute, Forbach thinks the requirements are reasonably matched with the academic expectations. Furthermore, he has witnessed the successes of many students who sat in his office swearing that they would do nothing more than fail.
“What usually happens is about 90 percent says that they can’t possibly do it and though they are scared to death, yet they eventually learn to persist,” said Forbach. “The program is about pushing students beyond their comfort zone.”
In addition to the challenging levels of reading, writing, presentation and responsibility, the overall price of completing the program requires a large amount of funding. For the 2007 fiscal year, the Leadership Institute’s cost per credit hour was said to be $2,341. This amount is significantly large when compared to the average academic cost per credit hour, which ranged between $100 to almost $500 for that same year.
Forbach himself admits that the program is expensive; however, he assumes that the $2,341 is more of a complied number in comparison to one that is exact.
“A number like that is every bit of cost for the program added up and divided by the number of credit hours that are generated by the students that are enrolled during a given semester,” said Forbach.
As Washburn University faces a budget crunch, the Leadership Institute has faced a number of cuts, the largest being Forbach’s current position as director. These cuts have been made because of the price of the overall program.
At the program’s beginning, Forbach was able to offer large scholarships to high school graduates in the top 10 percent of their class. These large scholarships were used as a strategy to attract these students to Washburn University. The students were required to participate in the Leadership Institute for as long as they kept the scholarship.
“We felt that we could come close to competing with some of the top Ivy League universities in the nation that these students were looking at,” said Forbach.
During the first year, Forbach was able to award seven scholarships to some of the top high school graduates in Kansas. Those scholarships amounted to approximately 128 percent of the overall tuition. Last fall, Forbach was barely able to fund 12 students, only awarding them $2,000 each. The scholarship money only amounted to 26 percent of the overall tuition.
According to Forbach, 35 to 40 people have graduated from the program since its official start in 2000. He has received assurances that the program will continue as usual next year, even though he will no longer be a part of it. While he can’t say for sure, he believes that the amount of scholarship money awarded will continue to diminish.
“I’ve poured my blood, sweat and tears into this for seven years,” said Forbach. “If they are given the opportunity, the students can continue to profit from their participation in this program.”