By Greg Gelpi
Challenges lie ahead, but Clayton College & State University President Thomas Harden remains optimistic.
Harden listed the accomplishments of the university from the past year and outlined the challenges for the coming year during his annual State of the University Address to students and faculty Friday.
Budget cuts topped Harden's concerns, but he said the university won't lower the quality of education at the expense of tough economic times.
Matt Todd, a Clayton State freshman from Forest Park, said he was pleased with the assessment of the university and has been pleased with the quality of education.
"Funds are never enough," Todd said. "I'm pretty sure that our community will hopefully help the school. There are really bright students here, and we are the next generation."
A mix of forces is converging to put the university in an economic crunch, Harden said. Current numbers have enrollment past the 6,000-mark for the first time in the university's 35-year history. At the same time, costs are rising, state funding is being cut and there is "pressure" not to raise tuition.
Amidst all of this, public support for higher education is "eroding," Harden said.
The eroding public support is evidenced by the third consecutive year of state funding cuts and impending fourth year, he said.
"We are here for the people we serve," Harden said. "The erosion of public support challenges what we can do."
Education helps people climb economic classes and the Southern Crescent is primarily a middle class community, he said.
"I do consider myself in the middle class, and it seems like we're getting further and further from the upper class," Todd said.
Despite economic woes, the president said the faculty and staff are helping fulfill his challenge to make Clayton State an international university by attracting international students and faculty and sending members of the university overseas among other achievements.
"I don't want to sound too ominous," Harden said. "I know that together we can solve this problem."
The president's optimism was felt and appreciated by members of the university's faculty and staff.
Byron Jeff, assistant professor of Information Technology, said he felt "good overall."
"The president placed a positive spin on a tough situation," Jeff said. "We have the faculty and staff to make it through any challenges that come."
Assistant Professor of Physical Education Janet Hamilton has confidence in Harden and the administration in handling the challenges he discussed.
"I'm just optimistic," Hamilton said. "The president has lead us through difficult times in the past, and I'm just confident he'll do it again."
Enrollment figures are hovering just about the 6,000-mark and won't be finalized until mid-October, but based on figures from last fall, about 30 percent of the students come from Clayton County and 17 percent come from Henry County.