Clayton State University (CSU) opened in 1969 in Morrow as Clayton Junior College, a unit of the University System of Georgia. Harry S. Downs, a university system administrator, became the founding president and served through 1993. The Board of Regents elevated the institution to baccalaureate status in 1986 and adopted the present name in 2005.
Founding and the Harry Downs Era
In 1965 the Board of Regents, responding to Governor Carl Sanders’s initiative to locate higher education opportunities within commuting distance of most Georgians, authorized three new junior colleges, including one for south metropolitan Atlanta. Several counties vied for the prize. Two influential legislators, Representative Bill Lee and Senator Terrell Starr, were among those instrumental in the board’s choice of Clayton County. A possible site immediately adjacent to Interstate 75 at the present location of South lake Mall was considered but rejected in favor of a less accessible but more appealing wooded tract with a small lake.
Following a pattern used for other institutions founded in this era, Clayton County subsidized the initial construction by passing a bond issue in 1966 for $4.9 million. The doors opened to 942 students on September 30, 1969. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted accreditation in January 1971.
In 1981 the college added a technical division that offered applied associate degrees and certificates with partial funding through the state’s technical institute system. Two years later the institution used its first major grant, $237,000 from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, to launch a major general-education curriculum initiative based on Alverno College’s assessment model.
Soon after the college opened, local boosters began to campaign for four-year status, and the elevation of what is now Kennesaw State University intensified the pressure. Clayton Junior College’s initial proposal for conversion was delayed while the university system staff studied upgrade requests from other institutions, including Georgia Southern College. In May 1985 the regents authorized the institution to become a senior college, and on July 1 of the next year the name Clayton State College (CSC) went into effect. Initially, baccalaureate offerings were limited to business and nursing. Again, Lee and Starr were influential in achieving the college’s aspirations. In 1990 CSC started intercollegiate athletics as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Meanwhile, the transfer and career associate degree mission continued, including the addition in 1987 of an off-campus facility in Jonesboro for aviation maintenance technology.
In 1991 Clayton State opened Spivey Hall, erected with funds provided by local real-estate developers Walter and Emilie Spivey. The hall is very highly regarded in the arts community because of the high quality of its acoustics, the impressive sound of its massive Italian-made organ, and its distinctive, high-profile programming, which is assisted by funds from the Spivey Foundation.
As a complement to Spivey Hall, CSC started a small bachelor of music program. In 1992 grant-supported planning for the middle-level education program began. The baccalaureate program developed slowly after the initial conversion because of the university system’s hesitations about the needs of south metropolitan Atlanta and Downs’s own cautious approach. The founding president announced in 1993 that he was stepping down; he later served a brief stint as acting chancellor of the university system.
The Skinner Years
Richard A. Skinner, who assumed the presidency in 1994, made information technology the hallmark of his administration. In January 1998 CSC became one of the first institutions in the nation to issue notebook computers and Internet accounts to every student taking academic credit classes. The faculty developed more than 100 online courses and technologically enhanced hundreds of on-campus courses as part of the Information Technology Project. The award-winning “ubiquitous computing” program continues, though now students must acquire their own computers.
During Skinner’s presidency the planned teacher education program was implemented, and other baccalaureate program development was accelerated to include a “career ladder” in information technology, a health-care management program, an expanded nursing program, and a general interdisciplinary degree. Capitalizing on its own School of Technology and working closely with several state technical institutes, in 1996 Clayton State launched four Bachelor of Applied Science majors, which allow career associate degree holders to move on to the baccalaureate, and now leads the state by a substantial margin in the number of such degrees awarded.
Also in 1996, CSC’s name was changed to Clayton College and State University. The university’s revised mission called for “career-oriented education with a solid liberal arts foundation.” During the mid-1990s the institution added more competitive sports and joined Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In addition, the Continuing Education Division grew to become one of the state’s largest, and its building was renamed in honor of Downs. Skinner also initiated an ambitious public-private development project adjacent to campus, which now includes student apartments, the Georgia Archives, the Vanishing Georgia Collection, and the regional National Archives.
Skinner left Clayton State in mid-1999 to head GLOBE, the university system’s distance-learning initiative. Michael F. Vollmer served as interim president until mid-2000, when Thomas K. Harden assumed the presidency.
Clayton State grew rapidly in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Harden’s principal initiatives included expanded development efforts, vigorous enrollment growth, increased selectivity and retention, and the addition of more baccalaureate programs. During the first three years of the Harden administration, the Board of Regents authorized Clayton State to add five new majors, and the strategic plan called for the addition of master’s degrees.
The new programs, combined with population growth in Atlanta’s suburban “southern crescent,” led to record-breaking enrollment in 2002 and 2003. In fall 2005 approximately 6,000 students enrolled in degree credit programs, and in May of that year the institution underwent another name change, to Clayton State University.
In 2009 Thomas J. “Tim” Hynes Jr., the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, was appointed interim president. He was inaugurated as president in October 2010. By fall 2011 more than 6,800 students were enrolled at Clayton State.
The School of Arts and Sciences is Clayton State’s largest academic unit. Students can pursue degrees in biology, communication and media studies, criminal justice, English, history, integrative studies, music, political science, psychology and human services, and teacher education. Students are also given the option to study overseas in such places as England, France, Italy, and Spain through Clayton State’s membership in the International Student Exchange Program. The school also participates in a direct exchange program with Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom.
The School of Technology has made Clayton State both a national and state leader in technical education. The school’s Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) program leads the state by a substantial margin in the number of BAS degrees awarded. The school also maintains several technical associate degree and certificate programs, including aviation maintenance technology, computer networking, and marketing and merchandising.
The School of Health Sciences is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, the Dental Board of Nursing, and the National League for Nursing, and its nursing and dental programs are both highly competitive. Students earn not only classroom hours but also clinic hours. The dental hygiene program operates an on-campus clinic, located in the student center, that is open to the public.
Clayton State’s School of Business has gained recognition throughout the Southeast for the high quality of its programs and graduates, and its willingness to meet the needs of the business community. It is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The small class sizes enable students to receive personalized advisement and a flexible delivery of courses, while the business curriculum itself is designed to meet the needs of employers. The School of Business offers the Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting, general business, marketing, and management.
The College of Information and Mathematical Sciences at Clayton State continues to expand through the addition of a mathematics major and an online Bachelor of Information Technology program through the University System of Georgia’s WebBSIT program.