Hold your horses: little known about KSU/SPSU merger

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The campuses of Kennesaw State University (KSU) and Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) were overwhelmed with the announcement that the two universities would merge in 2015, under the name Kennesaw State University. While the press release called it a merger, all that is happening is that KSU is absorbing SPSU and creating a new, and very competitive university. It’s likely that with a student body topping 31,000, and the addition of SPSU’s wonderful programs in engineering, architecture, and other sciences, that KSU will soon join UGA, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State as a research university.

Students on both campuses were shocked at the announcement, none more so than SPSU students who took to the web to express their extreme disappointment with the decision, going so far as to launch a petition to stop the merger. Some felt that the absorption (I’m calling it what it really is) would demean the quality education offered at SPSU, or that their KSU-issued diplomas would be worthless.

Really? What gives you that impression?

So far, little is known about the proposed merger and until the University System of Georgia’s meeting later this month, in which additional details regarding the merger will be discussed.

What we do know:

KSU and SPSU have until December 2014 to finalize the details of the merger. At that point, they’ll present the case for merging to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and then in January 2015, the  proposal goes in front of USG for a final decision. The merger is likely to be completed sometime thereafter.

While many students from both schools are deriding the decision, you could see this one coming a mile away. KSU is growing rapidly, and while they continue to add programs throughout the university’s various colleges, they don’t have many of the programs offered by SPSU. Combine what KSU currently offers, along with SPSU’s strong programs in the sciences, and you have a formidable, a growing university that can satisfy the needs of students throughout Georgia and the region.

When you combine the educational opportunities along with KSU’s ability to market the up and coming school, you have a beast on your hands come 2015. KSU president Daniel Papp (who will retain that title following the merger) has done a wonderful job developing KSU’s brand, making it a destination school for many students, and helping the school grow and thrive during the deepest throes of the Great Recession. Not only does 2015 bring the SPSU merger, but FCS football, a first for KSU, kicks off that fall, and will now have an additional 6000-plus students rooting on the Black and Gold.

You can laugh at the idea of KSU being a “brand” but the university has dedicated serious resources to build and develop KSU as a brand and with football on the way, they’re laying the groundwork for actual school spirit at a university that was until recently, almost exclusively a commuter school.

Stop by the local Wal-Mart, Target, or Town Center Mall, and you’ll find KSU gear for purchase. Can SPSU say the same?

Doubtful.

Sure, you can grab an SPSU shirt or hat in their bookstore, but they hardly have a brand, and certainly don’t have the growing Division I athletics department KSU boasts. Additionally, KSU is hard at work building a new student recreation center, extension on the library, expansion of the Bagwell College of Education, and there are plans in the works to  increase the size of the overcrowded Burruss Building which holds the heralded Coles College of Business.

I’ve only graced the campus of SPSU once, but it hardly left the same impression KSU did. Soon, students on both campuses will take advantage of KSU’s immense growth, and dedication to become not only a great university for the state of Georgia, but the region. Despite the disdain many SPSU students express over KSU and its perceived academic weaknesses, perhaps they should visit the main campus to see what Dr. Papp and his team are up to. They might be pleasantly surprised.

However, disadvantages are abound and need solutions sooner than later.

What’s unfortunate is that there won’t be a unified campus. It benefits those studying at SPSU, whose campus will likely remain intact, but is several miles from KSU’s main campus. While KSU is doing an admirable job acquiring land to meet the demands of a growing student body, there is no way they have space to fully absorb SPSU’s students, faculty, staff, and degree programs. This is where the challenge for the new KSU starts.

Any KSU or SPSU student can tell you that traffic near both campuses is disastrous. KSU is attempting to alleviate traffic problems near campus with the construction of a new bridge, that will connect two sides of campus, and should ultimately pull traffic from the congested Chastain Road. However, it does nothing to connect KSU’s main campus with SPSU’s campus. The two campuses are connected by Cobb Parkway, albeit several miles apart, and unless you build light rail, a shuttle service with dedicated lanes, or helicopter students from each campus, students are going to find it difficult to travel between SPSU and KSU.

Fortunately, these challenges are up to Dr. Papp, SPSU’s president Lisa Rossbacher, the administration at KSU and SPSU, and the USG to solve. Students, however, shouldn’t simply belittle either KSU or SPSU (SPSU students seem to paint KSU in an especially poor light), because whether they like the merger or not, it’s happening.

Mergers are not ideal, but when the state guts higher education budgets, extreme measures must be taken. In this case, we have a situation that could very well benefit students at both universities, or it could end up being detrimental. As of today, we just don’t know. KSU is doing what they can to stem the fears and concerns of students, faculty, and staff at both universities and provided a solid series of FAQs ahead of the upcoming USG meeting.

Once we hear more, I’m sure additional analysis will happen.

Stay tuned…

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