Clayton State University opened in 1969 as Clayton Junior College, with Dr. Harry S. Downs as the founding president. The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia elevated the institution to baccalaureate status (as Clayton State College) in 1986, to university status (as Clayton College & State University) in 1996 and approved the present name on May 18, 2005.
Upon the retirement of Harry Downs in January 1994, Dr. Richard A. Skinner became the University’s second president. In June 1999, Skinner left Clayton State to head the University System of Georgia’s new distance learning initiative, Georgia GLOBE. Michael F. Vollmer, Clayton State’s acting Vice President for Fiscal Affairs and former Interim President of Middle Georgia College, served as Interim President for one year.
In April 2000, Dr. Stephen R. Portch, Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, announced that the Board of Regents had selected Dr. Thomas K. Harden as the University’s new president, effective in June of that year. When President Harden was named chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay in December 2008, Dr. Thomas J. “Tim” Hynes, Jr., provost of the University of West Georgia, was named interim president of Clayton State, starting in May 2009. On Feb. 9, 2010, the Board of Regents announced that Hynes’ appointment as president of Clayton State had been made permanent.
The beginning of the University can be traced to 1965 when the Board of Regents authorized three new junior colleges for the University System, one of which was designated for south metropolitan Atlanta. The Board considered several locations in the region, and chose the present site in Clayton County because of the unique combination of natural beauty and easy access to the then recently-completed Interstate 75. The citizens of Clayton County subsidized the initial construction of the state institution by passing a bond issue for nearly $5 million. Construction of the new campus began in fall 1968, and the doors opened to 942 students less than a year later on September 30, 1969.
In 1981, the University added a technical division offering applied associate degrees and certificates in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. Five years later Clayton State began its baccalaureate mission with programs in business administration and nursing. The institution has continued to add majors at the bachelor’s level since that time. One notable example was the establishment of the Bachelor of Applied Science degree in 1996, as Clayton State emerged as a national leader in promoting opportunities for graduates from applied associate degree programs to “bridge” to bachelor’s degrees with little, if any, loss of credit.
Five years after initiating its baccalaureate programs in 1986, Clayton State opened the doors to the finest small performance facility in the southeastern United States, Spivey Hall. Now, more than 20 years later, Spivey Hall retains its local, national and international reputation by presenting the best in jazz and classical music and an education outreach program that serves thousands of school children from throughout metro Atlanta annually.
On November 16, 2005, Clayton State’s first graduate level program, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, was approved by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, opening the door to a whole new world of meeting the educational needs of students and citizens in metro Atlanta. The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies is the only degree of its kind in the state, and is designed to give students with highly focused undergraduate degrees the opportunity to explore a more multidisciplinary approach. A second graduate program, the Master of Science in Nursing, was approved by the Board of Regents in June 2006, a third, the Master of Health Administration, was approved in August 2006, and a fourth, a Master of Business Administration, in January 2007. The University’s fifth and sixth graduate programs, a Master of Arts in Teaching in English and a Master of Arts in Teaching in Mathematics, were approved by the Board of Regents in October 2008. Graduate programs in Archival Studies (2009) and Psychology (2010) became the University’s seventh and eight master’s programs.
Clayton State’s mission commits it to developing an understanding of advanced applications of modern technology. To that end, in January 1998 Clayton State became the first public university in the Southeast and one of the first in the nation to issue notebook computers to all students at all levels in all majors. This “Information Technology Project” (ITP) has transformed the campus and made Clayton State a national pioneer in “ubiquitous computing.” Starting fall 2001, the University entered a new phase called “ITP-Choice,” which maintains the requirement for ubiquitous mobile computing, while giving students the opportunity to purchase notebook computers rather than having the institution supply them.
The James M. Baker University Center, Clayton State’s signature building, was completed in August 2004 and named in honor of Clayton State alumnus James M. “Jim” Baker in November 2005, and provides the University with a true “Center” for student life. The building contains a food service area, a help desk for servicing notebook computers, state-of-the-art visual technology classrooms, offices and enhanced learning facilities including wireless capabilities and more than 2,000 data drops.
In a six week period between August and October 2008, the University dedicated three new buildings; the University’s first student housing (Laker Hall), the Student Activities Center and a new building for the AACSB-accredited School of Business. The LAB, a new annex to the Business and Health Sciences Building – devoted to adding more laboratory space for science classes -- opened in January 2011.
The purchase of the Atlanta Bible College property, now known as Clayton State - East, on Trammell Road, provides newly-renovated space for numerous University departmental offices as well as additional classroom space. In summer 2011, the University expanded student housing options with the addition of Clayton Station apartments adjacent to campus, increasing the main campus to 192 acres. In addition, instructional sites in Fayette, Henry, and Rockdale counties provide outreach to neighboring community populations, and eCore online courses extend educational alternatives even further.
The past several years at Clayton State have also been highlighted by the establishment of the nation’s only joint state and federal archives facilities adjacent to campus, the institution of a comprehensive strategic planning process, and the reaffirmation of the University’s accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Clayton State University is an NCAA Division II member, fielding in; men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track, men’s and women’s outdoor track, men’s golf and women’s tennis, and competing in one of the top conferences in the nation at that level - the Peach Belt Conference. The Clayton State Lakers have enjoyed much success in their 20-year history, capped in March 2011 when the women’s basketball team won the national championship by sweeping the six games of the NCAA tournament by an average of 21 points per game.