I got my undergrad degree from a school called Kennesaw State University. You’ve never heard of it. In fact, you’d probably need at least 10 guesses before you could correctly identify which state it is in.
Remember that one dude who made national news earlier this year when he posted a video of his advisor telling him that being black and waiting patiently constituted “harassment?” Well, that’s Kennesaw State. Before then, its biggest claim to fame was this time a Mexican student got deported for waiting too long on a parking space, or maybe the time an accounting professor exposed himself before final exams. (It’s also the alma mater of the dude who played Kincaid in the third and fourth “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, but much to my chagrin, that’s not listed in big, bold letters on the college website.)
Despite having virtually no national name recognition whatsoever, KSU is sort of a big deal in my home state of Georgia. Following its merger with an even obscurer technical school for those who couldn’t cut the mustard at Georgia Tech, it now enrolls well over 30,000 students. In 10 years time, it will have more students than Georgia State. Two decades from now, it will likely have more students than the University of Georgia.
The man more or less responsible for Kennesaw State’s rapid growth (at first glance, anyway) is a dude named Daniel S. Papp. He’s been the president of KSU for close to a decade now. He also looks a lot like Jeff Bridges, but that’s kind of an aside. Anyhoo, this Papp fellow has really done a lot to make KSU something grander than a former backwaters community college (even when the local media accuses him of being a communist because he let Angela Davis speak on campus once.) The ultimate feather in his cap, however, is the launch of KSU’s football team, whose inaugural season kicks off this autumn.
As both a student reporter and professional reporter, I’ve interviewed Papp about the football program numerous times. Time and time again, he told me the primary reason he was so gung-ho about football was because it was a proven wealth generator for the college – this, despite reports from the NCAA themselves that the average FBS school actually loses an average of $17.6 million a year on its football team. (And just so you know: KSU’s football team ain’t even an FBS I squad … it’s in the same division with Liberty University.)
The KSU football team will play its games at Fifth Third Bank Stadium – a rather small facility that holds less than 10,000 people, cost more than $16 million to construct and when not used for school athletic events, will host Major League Lacrosse games and country music festivals. Granted, these things are indeed wealth generators, but since KSU itself doesn’t actually own the stadium, the wealth generated by those events won’t directly go back to the school’s coffers.
The organization that will absorb the money from KSU football games is the Kennesaw State University Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that is completely independent of the college. According to a 2014 financial report, the KSU Foundation held about $461 million in assets. Ten years earlier, that same organization’s total holdings were less than $200 million.
For KSU, the big sea change event was in 2007. Just a year after Papp became the university’s president, a dude named Noman J. Radow was named head of the KSU Foundation. Now, remember how earlier, I was saying Papp seems to be the guy responsible for KSU’s financial growth? Well, the dude that REALLY deserves that credit is Normie, who incidentally, is the head of RADCO Companies. He’s also a former Lehman Brothers associate (yikes) who circa 2009, was in the midst of a $2 billion jihad to scoop up as much Recession-ravaged real estate as he could. Ever since Radow started calling the shots at the KSU Foundation, its net holdings skyrocketed. Under his leadership, the school went from having an anemic endowment of just a few million in 2000 to one that’s estimated to be over $30 million today. Considering the finagling he did to even get the dadgum stadium built, I was shocked — I mean shocked – that KSU didn’t wind up calling it “Radow Field” or something.
While Radow is no longer on the Board of Trustees for the KSU Foundation, its executive leadership remains well-stocked with metro Atlanta real estate moguls. Their mission, of course, is simple; partner with the school for its new development, find a way to shirk the costs off to somebody else, and as the Wu Tang Clan so eloquently put it, “C.R.E.A.M, get the money, dollar dollar bill ya’ll.”
Now, I’m sure a lot of that money will indeed find its way back to the university for its miscellaneous programs and student development initiatives, like Ann Coulter lectures, Wiz Khalifa concerts and paying their adjunct professors less than what part-time Wal-Mart staffers make. Call me cynical (and by cynical, I mean “realistic”), but I’m also pretty sure that a lot of that KSU Foundation procured-and-obtained expenses will wind up being passed on to students, either directly in the form of residential housing costs or indirectly in the form of mysterious “student fee” increases.
Now, I am not sure just how much money my alma mater stands to make off football games against such dynamic college football powerhouses as Edward Waters, Presbyterian and Shorter (another Georgia school whose big claim to fame it is perhaps worth noting, was purging its faculty of homosexuals in 2011), but I reckon it’s probably not going to be enough to recoup the associated costs of the football program (i.e., scholarships, away-game transportation, stadium use licensing, etc.) Faced with a sudden deluge of post-season debt, it’s pretty obvious where the school is going to look for its money – the student body itself.
You can only nickel and dime students so much with tuition. Thankfully, you can gouge, overcharge and generally shake down students for as much as you want in the form of gloriously nondescript “student activity fees” and “special institution fees.”
Right now, KSU tuition is $2,128 for tuition. On top of that, you’ve got to pony up an extra $1,000 in assorted fees. Kids beginning classes this fall, with a full-time slate of courses, will pay approximately $3,000 dollars per semester. Meanwhile, those poor, out-of-state saps will wind up paying $8,500 per semester for the same services.
In the big picture, that’s a pretty low-cost for college, especially in today’s America. But it’s still a sizeable increase in student costs, even since the time I graduated.
This rankles me because, as a dude just slightly above homeless for most of the late 2000s, there’s no way I could have afforded $9,000 a year plus book expenses to attend the school. If you’re making minimum wage and living by yourself, attending KSU today IS completely impossible, sans taking out a mountainous load of debt that, in the long run, actually hurts you more financially than if you had never even attended college at all.
Traditionally, KSU has been a commuter school with a largely adult-learner population. For decades, it has provided a cost-effective way for working moms and guys who wanted more out of their dead-end jobs to actually improve themselves. Had it not been for the school’s affordability, I’d probably be stuck in a mobile home park somewhere, with a mullet and a carpet mill job I hated and at least six or seven substance abuse problems. Thanks to their accessible higher education, however, I’ve gone on to actually fulfill my lifelong dream of being a professional writer, and without accumulating a single dime of student loan debt. For that, I’ll always be appreciative of them.
To think that such an opportunity may be denied to future working-class and lower-class kids just because the university is trying to cover losses on a football team, however, absolutely devastates me. I’m sure somebody over there is making a mint off all the new residential complexes and athletic parks going up, but for every action, there is an equal yet opposite reaction. Yeah, today’s students are getting some cool amenities, but at the expense of the school closing themselves off to the next batch of lower-class kids just looking for a way to better their own lives.
Alas, the football program is here to stay. There’s nothing I can say or do to change that, but I think there is one symbolic gesture the school can do to make me happy.
My alma mater’s nickname is the Owls. It’s not a terrible nickname, per se, but it is fairly run-of-the-mill. As an homage to those students who have really built KSU into the post-Recession success it is, I suggest changing the football team’s name to something else: the Single Moms.
Yes, that’s right, all I want is for my alma mater to recognize the student body that has literally paved the way for the university’s huge development projects – the very same people, it appears, who are being pushed out of classes by all these non-academic student costs.
There was a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution a few weeks ago about a young woman starting her first year of college at Kennesaw State University. For years, she’s worked across the street from the college at a Waffle House to support her child – a child, by the way, that she conceived due to a rape that occurred when she was barely a teenager herself.
THAT is what KSU is about. It’s about giving honest, decent, hard-working people an opportunity to overcome poverty, tragedy and other personal setbacks without digging themselves into even deeper financial holes.
In fact, that young woman’s silhouette should be the logo plastered on the side of the football team’s helmet. When the KSU Single Moms are battling the Liberty Flames (I swear to the Almighty, that’s actually what they call their team), I want to hear thousands of thousands of Kennesaw fans waving baby bottles in their air like Styrofoam Florida State Seminoles foam tomahawks. Whenever the defense takes the field, a cacophony of plastic rattler vibrations should make everything in a mile-wide radius inaudible. When the Georgia Bulldogs fans bark and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fans buzz, they should be drowned out by a proud, noble KSU rallying cry — “On Our Own!” screamed at the height of the crowd’s lungs, until blood starts pouring out of their tonsils. Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers and USC Trojans will tremble at the sight of KSU’s new mascot. After all, what in this world is more devoted, more passionate and more willing to fight to the death for what she loves than a Single Mom?
They may not be able to actually afford to attend classes anymore, but hey! At least they’d be getting some sort of acknowledgment from the university – and with it, a LONG overdue token of appreciation.