New Kennesaw State leader hopes to keep student costs affordable

Kennesaw State University's new president wants to figure out what classes best fit student needs, start a fundraising campaign and graduate more career-ready students to work in local businesses.

She also said she’s open to meeting the cheerleaders who knelt during the national anthem at football games last year and some of the students who protested on campus in support of the cheerleaders and over other issues.

VIDEO: More on Pamela Whitten

Pamela Whitten, the former provost at the University of Georgia, discussed these and other matters during a 30-minute interview Tuesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here are excerpts:

Q: There have been concerns from students that they haven’t been able to get all of the classes they need. Does that mean hiring new faculty or changing the description of some of the programs here?

A: The first step we're doing is going back to basics to understand what we do well now and areas where we need to improve to advance our students. I'm a big believer in the use of data to understand trends, and we're undertaking some work to analyze things as basic as course offerings to make sure we have the schedules right for what students need to succeed.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge for you or for KSU?

A: I think the challenges we see mirror what's happening throughout higher education. We're challenged to keep college affordable. … We have a significant percentage of students at the university who are receiving some form of financial aid (54 percent, according to federal data) and we have to be mindful of not only keeping costs low at the university but also setting ambitious goals about how we can bring new resources to help those students afford college as well.

Q: Is there anything specific you can speak of on the affordability side or fundraising?

A: On the leadership side, we have a number of vacancies that are interim that we're filling and one of them is a vice president for advancement and development. We're all looking for a new leader in that area so we can be more aggressive raising external funds (KSU's endowment is $44.4 million) so we can be helpful.

Q: How do you engage students and faculty so that they feel part of the process?

A: There'll be initiatives so I can keep in front of students all the time and different kinds of students who have access to the president in formal and informal kinds of ways.

Q: Four of the five cheerleaders (who knelt at football games) will not be on the team this year. (The number of students who tried out increased from 61 in 2017 to 95 this May.) Have you thought about having conversations with any of them or student leaders who were involved in the demonstrations last year to discuss what their concerns are?

A: It's a good question. I have to plead I'm so new, I'm still trying to untangle and understand past issues that happened. It's a good suggestion.

Q: You’ve talked about 100 days. Do you have any goals in mind after those 100 days?

A: We're not waiting 100 days to start a lot of things … I mentioned the work we're trying to do (review) class schedules. We've already started that. There's a lot of information and data gathered. The train has left the station. We are just being careful to do it collaboratively across campus.