Clayton State growing, fulfilling mission

By Greg Gelpi

Despite its quaint beginnings on what was once a dairy farm, Clayton College & State University has grown into an education powerhouse serving students from all over the metro Atlanta area.

And plans call for more growth.

CCSU President Tom Harden, who became president in June 2000, recently launched an initiative to have 7,000 students in 2007, one of many initiatives to fulfill the university's mission of serving the Southern Crescent community.

"We're going to beat that pretty easily," Harden said. "We anticipate a pretty rapid growth after that."

Not only will the university meet this goal, it should do so well ahead of schedule through "controlled growth," Harden said.

And the growth won't stop once the university reaches its goal of 7,000 students.

"We're going to double that in the coming decade," Harden said. "That brings a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of challenges."

He projects that by 2013 Clayton State will have about 12,000 students.

The university set an enrollment record for the fourth straight semester this spring with 5,875 students.

With the number of students enrolling in Georgia colleges and universities on the increase, Clayton State is addressing the needs and wants of its students, allowing the university to stay competitive and retain its students, Harden said.

The university's standards have never been lowered, and, in fact, they could get tougher in the future, Harden said. Admission is based on a combination of SAT scores and high school grade point averages.

"We don't do much advertising or marketing," Harden said. "We're just going to grow regardless."

The university had two new majors approved in January and has three more up for review by the Board of Regents. Criminal justice and music education majors were added, and English, math and government are in the works. Clayton State is also working on proposals for a graduate program.

Along with academics, Clayton State is increasing the number of activities and athletics being offered.

"Our NCAA athletics program is just doing really well," Harden said. "We are not a junior college any more."

The school opened in 1969 as Clayton Junior College and became a four-year institution in 1986.

Other plans include adding more satellite campuses to bring higher education to the community, rather than having the community commuting to the school. One such planned satellite campus will be in Henry County, Harden said, although that plan is in the early stages.

"In Henry County, we are very interested in establishing a very comprehensive campus," he said. "We are exploring possibilities right now in Henry County."

The university has campuses in Peachtree City and Roswell already. The Morrow main campus is growing, while the land it sits on is not and satellite campuses would alleviate that strain.

"We don't have the means to tell a student that meets our criteria that we don't have a space for them," Harden said. "That is not an option for us."

Although the university is growing, its budget is shrinking with reductions in state funding.

"It has been difficult with our budget cuts," Harden said, calling it a "Catch 22."

More students bring more money for Clayton State, but the university must have money to accommodate more students.

"We've had an array of budget cuts," he said. "As people have retired and left for a number of other reasons, we haven't filled those positions. Most of our expenses have been in people. I can't accommodate any more cuts without it affecting people."

Cuts have caused the university to be "frugal" with supplies and not pay for some travel that would normally be paid for.

Also in the future of Clayton State is the completion of three major construction projects. The University Center, a facility at the heart of the campus with student organization offices, classes, food court and commons area, should open this spring. State archives and federal archives buildings are being constructed adjacent to the campus, which will provide research opportunities to students. Also, the Gateway Project will put a convention center, hotel, golf course and more across from the university.