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Clayton State president sees growth for 2005

By Greg Gelpi

Growth has become the hallmark of Clayton College & State University and 2005 will be no different, President Thomas Harden said.

"We're just going to keep following our strategic plan," Harden said, and that plan calls for growth, growth of the campus, student body and academic programs.

Harden said it's a "high priority" to continue to add academic programs, including a bachelor of science in health fitness management, and the university will be submitting its first graduate program for University System approval in the coming year.

The university is "getting close" to having graduate degrees, but Harden said he wasn't comfortable disclosing the specifics of the programs until receiving system approval to offer them.

Clayton State marked its seventh consecutive semester of record enrollment in the fall, and the university has grown about 35 percent in the past four years, Harden said. The president set a goal to make "7 in 7," 7,000 students by 2007, and the university topped 6,000 students for the first time in the fall. Along with growth, though, comes growing pains.

"This campus is really not built out sufficiently to meet the growth," the president said of the main campus in Morrow. The campus has "very specific space needs," including the need for more science lab space.

The university is developing a new master plan for the campus, while maintaining the "natural beauty" of the campus, Harden said. The university is already forecasting a 5 percent to 8 percent increase in enrollment in the fall 2005 and 12,000 to 15,000 students by 2015. More students translates into needs for more faculty.

In 2005, Clayton State will continue to develop its satellite campuses as it fulfills its mission to serve the Southern Crescent, he said. A "fairly comprehensive center for higher education" will begin holding classes in Locust Grove in January, and the university is working to find a "more permanent" site for its satellite campus in Fayette County.

One aspect of serving the Southern Crescent is the university's commitment to "internationalizing" the curriculum, Harden said. In efforts to make students aware of other cultures, Clayton State will continue its study and teach abroad programs, fostering relationships with universities around the globe.

Clayton State will add more activities to enhance student life as it has recently, including more intramural sports programs, Harden said. While reaching out to its students, Clayton State will also reach out to the community as a whole.

One proposal is the establishment of centers or institutes to meet particular needs of the community and address particular areas of study, although he said the concepts are in the early stages and no specifics have been discussed.

The new year will bring the familiar challenge of funding, Harden said. A budget cut hits the university hard, but the effect is compounded as budget cuts are strung together each year.

Financially, education throughout the state was hurt in 2004 with another round of budget cuts, which prompted discussion of tuition hikes.

"We're not expecting a really fast turnaround," Harden said of economic conditions. "There's really no money available to cut. As far as more funding cuts, I don't know what we would do."

Although he admits challenges will arise in 2005, Harden remains optimistic.

"I think we're very well prepared and ready to meet the challenges," he said. "We're really coming off a very good year."

The "very good year" was capped by good news from the university's accrediting agency.

Clayton State received word from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that the university passed its regular 10-year review. Harden said the process of getting reaffirmed by its accrediting agency took work from all departments and took several years to complete.

Resources can now be focused to addressing other challenges, Harden said.