Of the 23 seniors in my class, all will graduate before the KSU transition, so none anticipate transferring this close to graduation. They will be among the last to receive a SPSU degree. Seventy-eight percent said if they were juniors or younger, they would transfer before the transition if they had another option, but none said they had another viable option.
Only nine percent said they would have considered going to KSU for engineering straight out of high school, even if the staff and facilities were identical.
Most cited lack of academic rigor, and lack of brand, as their justifications.
Sixty-one percent said they think this move devalues their degree, while four percent thought it was a benefit. Thirty-five percent suspected this decision was political, instead of financial or academic.
In discussion, many questioned whether the cost savings from elimination of duplicate administrative positions would compensate for the increased cost of busing, and several questioned whether any savings realized would go to benefit the students or would be applied indirectly to KSU’s burgeoning football program.
One athlete, a soccer player, questioned whether his team would even be around next year due to Title IX. He also brought up the issue of whether NAIA athletes would be allowed academically to participate in NCAA Division 1 sports.
The students did identify some positives. One student noted that if liberal arts programs were eliminated from SPSU’s campus entirely, it could free more classroom space for already cramped engineering classes. Merging with KSU might help with retention numbers, as those unable to keep pace with the engineering curriculum might have a wider range of major alternatives.
Taking a closer look at the informal poll numbers listed above, the first two results are potentially alarming. If this move is met with an exodus of current students and a drop-off of incoming students, then KSU will not have acquired the overall SPSU academic product at all, merely the buildings and equipment. The net effect may indeed be to save money, but by pushing students elsewhere for their education. Whether that potential effect was unforeseen by the Board of Regents, or actually intended by them, is a hot topic now on campus.
On the other hand, the answers in my informal poll may be colored by the hot emotions of the day, and also by the narrow group I polled. SPSU professors I’ve spoken with seem relatively positive about retaining students and maintaining the level of admissions. The program could flourish in the same way that engineering programs at other large state schools do, such as at Michigan and Texas, as long as engineering programs are given enough autonomy to manage admissions to their college internally as they see fit, and to grade as they see fit without administrative pressure.
In the short term, it is clear to me that the KSU engineering program will have to rebuild its reputation among employers because the name recognition associated with a SPSU diploma, which has grown a great deal regionally in the past decade, will be lost. That name recognition does have real value, and I question whether the Regents properly accounted for this potentially tremendous loss of value in their cost analysis.
An easy way to mitigate this loss of brand value by SPSU, and perhaps gain brand value for KSU, would be to adopt a new name for the combined institution that reflects the strengths and locations of both campuses.
BJ Campbell is a licensed civil engineer, and small business owner. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech, and is adjunct faculty at SPSU.