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Southern Polytechnic/Kennesaw merger: Alum says SPSU won't go down without a fight.

Nov. 4, 2013
CURTIS COMPTON/CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

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Michael Barrett is a former board member of the Southern Polytechnic State University Alumni Board. A mechanical engineer with worldwide experience, he is self-employed now as a consultant in special machine design, automation, manufacturing capability and new product development. Eight family members attended SPSU.

Today, he writes why his alma mater should not be merged and asks some good questions of the Board of Regents.

In an addendum to his essay, Barrett sent me a note Friday:  “SPSU this week received notification that an accreditation committee visit yielded a perfect score for five new engineering programs at SPSU.  The committee stated they had never seen an absolutely perfect score before from any engineering school.  The accreditation body is ABET, the authoritative accreditation body for engineering and engineering technology education in the United States.”

A letter to the Board of Regents from Michael Barrett:

 It is disappointing to learn that the Board of Regents is planning to merge Southern Polytechnic State University and Kennesaw State University.  It is equally disturbing that this announcement was made just days prior to the BOR vote on the matter with no input from interested citizens and supporters of SPSU.

There are numerous substantial reasons this merger would be detrimental to the applied engineering and science programs of SPSU.  Not the least of which is that under most of the 32-year reign of Georgia Tech over Southern Tech, the latter did not prosper. Even though both schools were and are technologically oriented, the research-based Georgia Tech and applied-based Southern Tech had compatibility issues.

For different reasons, Southern Tech and Kennesaw State have even more incompatibility and major differences in mission, philosophy, and objectives. These differences begin with entrance requirements. Although the differences in entrance examination requirements between the two schools are not exceptionally large, the average math test scores are significantly greater for Southern Tech students. A higher rigor in the math and sciences is required for engineering/technology and the hard sciences at Southern Tech.

Although Kennesaw President Dan Papp has stated the level of coursework for engineering students will not be compromised, I beg to differ. In attending several state colleges in Georgia and graduate school in another state, the differences became apparent. The most demanding and rigorous liberal arts courses I encountered were at Southern Tech.  If a merger occurs, the lower common denominator always will be found.

Engineering and technology are more demanding for reasons other than their rigor. As many courses at Southern Tech have laboratory components, students in general spend much more time on campus than do liberal arts majors.  A school day consisting of 10 to 12 hours in engineering or architecture is not uncommon. In addition, a massive amount of study outside the classroom and laboratories is required.

At a time when a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Georgia required 180 quarter hours to complete, a bachelor degree from Southern Tech required up to 214 or more quarter hours. That is essentially one additional year for the completion of a Southern Tech degree.

A small, closely-knit environment such as Southern Tech provides is conducive to the intense learning processes required for highly technical subjects. With a primary focus and objective of engineering and the applied sciences in mind, Southern Tech is well-placed to provide this environment. The class sizes and distractions of a large university would be detrimental to this objective. Southern Tech classes in all likelihood are much smaller than those of KSU.

Colleges with a primary focus on engineering and the hard sciences graduate engineers better equipped to work in technical businesses and industries. Southern Tech as it is fits this mold precisely. The faculty, staff, administration, and students know and appreciate this fact. Employers of Southern Tech graduates also are keenly aware of this. This would not be the case under the direction of a liberal arts institution. 

The word “culture” has arisen in much of the discussion of the merger.  It certainly is appropriate in this case. Historically, a high percentage of Southern Tech students have been older, often times veterans, and frequently with families. Many have had work experience before entering college. Many held other degrees but saw the opportunity and value of a degree, even an associate degree, from Southern Tech. Countless numbers of Southern Tech students have held full- or part-time jobs while attending classes.

 One reason for this is that skills learned even in the early classes taken in pursuit of a degree are much in demand by business and industry. A good example of this is engineering graphics, CAD, required of most engineering, technology, and architecture students. Southern Tech students are used to working and working hard.

In my almost 50 year career, I have worked with and have employed scores of engineers from numerous universities. This includes MIT, NC State, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, U.S. Naval Academy, West Point, Maryland, Clemson, South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Dayton, Wisconsin, and dozens of others. I would put the performance of a Southern Tech graduate up against that of a graduate from any of these other schools. With SPSU’s applied approach and insistence upon excellence, its graduates are equipped to tackle the theoretical and make the applied work.

In having my own business for the last 24 years, I have always turned to Southern Tech graduates when possible. They simply go to work and contribute when they walk in the door. That can’t be said for most other engineering graduates. Therein lies the value of a true Southern Tech education. This is why so many employers insist upon hiring Southern Tech graduates. Employers make their quickest return on investment with an SPSU graduate. This is a true test of the validity and value in keeping Southern Tech as it is.

In that vein, the best return on investment for the taxpayers’ investment in USG schools probably is money spent at Southern Tech. Look at the tax dollars generated versus the per-student expenditure. As the proposed merger supposedly is about dollars, this fact should be taken into account.  If the merger is purely cost-driven with school proximity a factor, then a Georgia State-Georgia Tech merger would yield higher results.

 Your responses to the following questions are requested:

 Do you have an estimate of tax dollars generated by a Southern Tech graduate versus the USG investment in his education?

 Do you have an estimate of the same comparison of a Kennesaw State graduate?

 Do you have an estimate of how many current SPSU students will transfer to another college rather than become a student at KSU?

 Do you have an estimate of how many potential SPSU students will choose to go a school other than KSU because of the merger?  Many will choose to go out of state.

 Was a name for the unified school given any deference to SPSU considered?

 Were all sources of potential revenue explored, including the entire USG budget, before this decision was made?  The BOR budget is a matter of public record.

 Did the expansion of UGA’s engineering college have any influence upon this merger decision?

 Do you have an estimate of how many SPSU alumni and employers of SPSU graduates will not support the move to KSU in any form?  This includes donations and employing KSU engineering graduates.  I, for one, will not support KSU financially or employ KSU engineering graduates.  I am not alone in this position.

 What does the Regents see in store for what are now Southern Tech’s programs should the merger occur?  Five years from now?  Ten years from now?

 It is interesting that so many alumni, parents, family, and friends are responding to a petition against the merger.  The sentiment runs deep for SPSU and each signer of the petition represents many individual taxpayers and voters.  Eight members of my family have attended Southern Tech and not one among them supports a merger.

 Supporters of Southern Tech fought a vigorous battle to bring about the separation of Southern Tech from Georgia Tech in 1980.  Only then did the school begin to thrive and gain recognition beyond those who employed its graduates.

 The same level of fervor and intensity has arisen to halt the merger of SPSU and KSU.  With media coverage, social networks, and the desire to prevent any merger, we are prepared to fight again.

 The Southern Tech community is overwhelmingly against any such merger.  It is formally requested that a committee of Southern Tech supporters have their voices heard before the Board of Regents before any vote occurs.

 This letter is written with no disparagement toward Kennesaw State University, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, or any other entity.  It is written from observation, experience, and logic.

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