Lawmakers in Georgia are going to rescind a bill filed last week in state legislature to create a new “Georgia A&M University System” that would grant more fiscal autonomy over Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University.
The bill was introduced with zero public notice and generated national reaction, mostly from students and alumni who want no parts of a merger or consolidation plan which changes school names, and possibly changes missions.
But they can’t see what the lawmakers see.
Georgia has pioneered mergers and consolidations of public colleges and universities dating back more than eight years, and the planning for such consolidations going back more than a decade.
Many of their consolidations have created larger, fast-growing predominantly White campuses near the public HBCUs, and have spurred the growth of Georgia State University as the nation’s top destination for Black students – a direct threat even to the private Atlanta University Center schools.
Georgia has sent a clear sign that it will not shut down HBCUs outright, but will close them down by directing Black students to increasingly diverse PWIs like Middle Georgia State University and Georgia Southern University. Black Democrats have been fully aware of this effort, and their bill, apparently filed inadvertently, gives away just how urgent the situation is for the HBCUs and their communities.
Consolidate or close?
In truth, the lawmakers may have developed an idea for Georgia that could save public HBCUs in the state and serve as a blueprint for Black colleges nationwide. If HBCUs facing falling enrollment, budget cuts and increasing competition from PWIs do not consider consolidation, they will suffer quickly and dramatically.
Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State have all contended with falling enrollment, leadership instability and financial strife for the better part of a decade. Their situations are not improving; they are getting worse. Elected officials know that these schools and these communities have to be saved, but also know that a plan such as the one now available to the public, could cost them their seats.
Proposal has gaps
First, BET’s “The Quad” doesn’t deserve to live on through the creation of an HBCU system. Second, more direction is needed on how the three HBCUs would function with athletic and marketing programming, how the schools will determine academic programs and for which communities, and what to do with Fort Valley State’s land-grant status.
Legislators developed this plan without reaching out to each of the HBCU communities. That makes sense, because every president working at these schools, as former system officials, are likely to have run back to the system to alert them of the pending plans. Understandably, this apprehension caught key stakeholders off guard once it was publicized.
These issues aside, this is not a bad plan for Georgia’s public HBCUs. In fact, it may be the best plan to ensure their survival, and likely to attract support from a largely conservative legislative body. Black lawmakers shouldn’t rush to appease students and alumni who do not have access to the data they have, and the urgent story the data tells.
No matter how hard it may be or how much it may cost politically, lawmakers should consider what the future will look like without a plan of shared action, and how long it would take for the lack of a plan to decimate their communities.