KSU is consolidating with Marietta’s Southern Polytechnic State University after a controversial decision by the Georgia Board of Regents. Papp said the process of combining the two schools, culminating in January 2015, is the university’s top priority.
He called last November’s announcement the schools would combine a “bombshell.”
The 40-minute address Wednesday was inside the Bobbie Bailey Performance Center in front of about 400 people. Papp said the No. 1 challenge in the consolidation process will be combining personnel, including top cabinet positions.
The two schools have 25 personnel between them who report directly to the schools’ presidents. When the schools combine, the number will go down to 12. Thus, several top administrators, including SPSU President Lisa Rossbacher, have accepted jobs at other schools.
One KSU administrator leaving is Vice President for Student Success Jerome Ratchford. He has been with the school since 1988 and will retire in December.
“I didn’t know how much we’d advance when I first came here, but I’m also not surprised,” Ratchford said. “I’m just thrilled to be a part of it. I sometimes pinch myself that I’ve had such tremendous opportunity here.”
50 years of KSU
Papp touched on the school’s rapid growth over the last half-century.
“Only 50 years ago, this institution had zero students, zero faculty, zero staff and zero facilities,” he said. “When it opened its doors 48 years ago, it had 1,014 students and 37 faculty. I think it’s safe to say that is has been one heck of a first 50 years.”
KSU’s fall 2013 enrollment was 24,629, up from 24,604 the previous year. SPSU’s fall 2013 enrollment of 6,550 was also up from 6,202 in fall 2012, and Papp said both schools are expected to grow next year.
Papp also touched on a new designation the school received this year.
“The pace of year 50 picked up when the Board of Regents at its August meeting created what for the University System of Georgia was a new classification of universities, the ‘Comprehensive Universities,’” said Papp, who has been KSU president since 2006. “KSU, along with its sister institutions Georgia Southern, Valdosta State and West Georgia, was one of four institutions designated a Comprehensive University.”
The designation indicates KSU in is a class of schools that perform some research along with teaching students. He said the school’s research ambitions will be boosted by combining with SPSU.
“The consolidation of these two fine universities will create an educational and economic powerhouse for the state of Georgia, and for that matter, the nation,” he said.
According to Papp, the combined KSU will have a yearly economic impact of $1.2 billion and nearly $30 million a year in externally funded research.
Also in the last year, Kennesaw State signed the first recruiting class for its new football program. The team landed players including Griffin High School quarterback Jaquez Parks, who was named the Georgia All-Classification Player of the Year. Papp said acquiring Parks was a coup for the program.
Other recent events Papp mentioned included two winter snowstorms and April’s lockdown of the campus that ended up being a false alarm.
“Our prevailing philosophy is, and will remain, it is better to be safe than sorry,” Papp said.
Papp gave a short history of SPSU in his speech. The schools will formally combined in January 2015, but won’t be completely combined until the beginning of the fall 2015 semester.
Some other challenges of consolidation include combining degree programs that exist at both schools and equalizing salaries between staff members at each school.
Role of SPSU campus
In an interview with the MDJ following the speech, Papp acknowledged that many SPSU students and alumni are still upset about the merger. But he said student organizations are leading a grassroots effort to culturally merge the two student bodies. He said the SPSU campus will not become a satellite campus of KSU, instead saying there will be two core campuses. SPSU likely will be called the Marietta campus, while the current KSU campus will be called the Kennesaw campus.
At least three of the combined university’s colleges will be on the Marietta campus. They will be the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, the College of Architecture and Construction Management and the College of Computing and Software Engineering.
KSU’s tuition will increase 2.5 percent this year. But Papp pointed ou tuition will jump 9 percent at Georgia Tech, 7 percent at UGA and 4 percent at Georgia State and Georgia Regents.
“These larger tuition increases provide these research universities much greater flexibility in their budgets,” he said.
The Board of Regents funded raises for university employees for the first time in six years. Papp said those raises will be given by merit rather than across the board. The overall raise pool is for about 0.7 percent.
KSU is in the middle of several major construction projects, including a $39 million recreation center, a $22 million expansion to its college of education and an $18 million bridge over Interstate 75 between Frey Road and Busbee Drive. The school also purchased a nearby BrandsMart, which will be used by the school’s new marching band, and also to create 722 new parking spaces.
“Without minimizing the budgetary challenges we face, and without minimizing the angst that consolidation has created, I believe that the state of Kennesaw State is excellent,” Papp said.
After hearing the speech, KSU Director of Residence Life Jeff Cooper said he’s excited about the direction the school is headed.
“It provided a good summary of the things that are going on at the school,” he said. “Dr. Papp has always been intentional about keeping us in the loop. He’s very transparent about what’s happening with the university.”