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Education & Career Dev.

FEATURE: Sen. Lester Jackson Authors White Paper on “The Case for Strengthening And Growing Georgia’s HBCUs

Category: Education, Colleges & Career

By Lou Phelps, Coastal Empire News

April 23, 2019 – Sen. Lester Jackson, III, of Savannah has released a white paper today in which he makes the case for why he has authored a bill to be taken up next year in the Georgia General Assembly to create a separate state college system for Georgia’s three historically, predominately black colleges and universities, known in the academic world as “HBCUs.”

Jackson begins with outlining his own family's long educational relationship with many of Georgia’s HCBU’s, and then reviews his research on the dramatic funding challenges Savannah State University, Albany State University, and Fort

PHOTO:   Sen. Lester Jackson speaking in the Georgia Senate.

Valley State University have faced for many years.   

The Senator is alleging inadequate representation of HBCU’s on the state’s Board of Regents;  a lack of comparable funding per student with the state’s other universities;  and insufficient support by Board of Regents trustees in helping Georgia’s HBCU’s to build their endowment funds.

“I'm asking you to read what's listed here all the way to the bottom and at some point, if you haven't already, please read the bill I've proposed for discussion. There's a link to it at the end. I guarantee anyone who looks at the current environment in its totality will see a need for change,” Sen, Jackson begins the dissertation.

And, he does in fact have deep knowledge about all three institutions.  His mother and numerous members of his family attended and graduated from Albany State University. His father was a graduate of Savannah State University, as were numerous members of his family. His sister and brother are both graduates of Savannah State University.  Two other brothers graduated from the state of Tennessee’s flagship HBCU, Tennessee State University.  His wife is a graduate of the state of Mississippi’s flagship HBCU, Jackson State University. And, he is an alumnus of an HBCU in Georgia, Paine College in Augusta, Georgia.

Both Sen. Jackson and his wife, Dr. Lorna Jackson, met while they were both studying to become dentists at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, the largest historically black medical institution in the United States, primarily dedicated to educating health care professionals and scientists.

“Given my deep roots and background in support of HBCUs, as you read through my findings, I ask you to charge any questions or concerns to my head, and not my heart,” he writes, adding that he would be opposed to merging or consolidating of ASU, FVSU or SSU with any other institution in the University System of Georgia. 

SB 278 does not propose to merge ASU, FVSU and SSU. “It simply affords the institutions the ability to band together to become a state HBCU system with over 12,000 students overnight and the strength and influence that would come with such a move.”   And, “SB 278 would prevent any future talk of merging ASU, FVSU or SSU into one of the existing University System of Georgia institutions because the state HBCUs would have their own board and chancellor,” states Sen. Jackson.   

Georgia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Georgia is home to three public and seven private HBCUs: Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University are public institutions. Clark Atlanta University, Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown College, Paine College and Spelman are private institutions.

When Albany State University was merged with Darton College, it did not require legislation. It was done by action of the Georgia Board of Regents.

The Funding Issues for Georgia’s Three HBCU’s

The budgets for Georgia’s state HBCUs are currently folded into the funding for the Georgia Board of Regents and not broken out individually, thus making it easy to neglect the state HBCUs while putting significantly more financial resources into the state’s “public, white institutions,” he states. “My constituents and the people I have heard from regarding SB 278 believe we can keep fighting for scraps or come up with a better idea.” 

“A semi-independent, state HBCU system, with its own chancellor, own board of trustees, and university presidents selected by its own board, could drive its own mission and path along the way to rivaling the current standard trendsetters in the world of HBCUs.

With its own lines in the state budget, an HBCU system could not be neatly and conveniently folded into the Georgia Board of Regents budget anymore to be neglected and underfunded. The three schools collectively would be also become stronger via shared best practices, courses, resources and leadership,” the Senator writes.

“My original bill achieved its desired objective. When have the state HBCUs received this much attention…unless they were trying to do something bad to them?” he adds. 

“Savannah State will not be merged with Georgia Southern. Not under my watch. I said it. Make sure you spell my name correctly,” he adds.

And, he believes that Georgia has an opportunity to retain and compete for students, mostly African American students who want to attend a HBCU, who currently do not have educational options offered in bordering or nearby states, projecting that the system could be grown to between 15,000 and 20,000 students over time. 

His legislation calls for a 19-member Board of Trustees for a state HBCU System that selects its own

chancellor and individual presidents of its three member institutions after receiving input from faculty, staff, students and alumni as part of a national search process, and insure that the institutions retain their names.

Senator Jackson’s white paper includes a number of facts on current enrollment levels:  The number of students enrolled full time at the three state HBCUs for Fall 2018 was:  Albany State University - 5,597;  Fort Valley State University - 2,617; and Savannah State University – 3,850 for a combined total of 12.064.

The full time enrollment at Georgia State was more than three times that number at

44,819. Of the 52,814 students enrolled at Georgia State University, 21,697 were

African American.

“The data indicates that the University System of Georgia is doing a great job with Predominantly White

Institutions (PWIs) like Georgia State, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, while enrollment and funding continues to decrease collectively at the three state HBCUs,” states the Senator.

The Current Georgia Board of Regents

Georgia law places sole authority in the governor to appoint the nineteen members of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (Georgia Board of Regents), five of whom are appointed from the state-at-large, and one from each of the state’s fourteen congressional districts. Appointees serve all or part of seven-year terms. The Board elects a chancellor who serves as its chief executive officer and the chief administrative officer of the University System of Georgia.  The current or previous Republican governors appointed all nineteen current members of the Georgia Board of Regents.

Georgia is the eighth largest state in the country with more than 10.5 million residents. Over 3.3 million of those residents are African American.  While a third of Georgia residents are African American, only one African American currently serves on the Georgia Board of Regents comprised of nineteen members. And, that member resides in and represents the 5th Congressional District in Atlanta which does not have a state HBCU. 

Organized over 87 years ago in 1932, of the hundreds of appointments to the Board, there have been less than three graduates of ASU, FVSU, or SSU have been appointed by Republican or Democrat Governors, and no graduates of ASU, FVSU, or SSU currently serve on the Georgia Board of Regents.

More than half of the voting members of the Georgia Board of Regents attended the University of Georgia (UGA.)

Senator Jackson also states that enrollment has declined at ASU, FVSU and SSU over several years, and the three institutions “have never been funded at the same levels of Georgia’s PWIs.”

“The public HBCUs in other states with their own governing boards, and have significantly larger endowments than Georgia’s public HBCUs who are governed by the Georgia Board of Regents,” he adds.

“Members of the governing boards of public HBCUs have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure adequate funding and endowments at their institutions, yet the estimated endowments at all three state HBCUs in Georgia are critically low:   Albany State University - $1.9 million; Fort Valley State University - $5.4 million; and Savannah State University - $7 million,” he states.

“Alumni giving remains dismally low at Georgia’s state HBCUs.   Alumni giving would be significantly higher if the state HBCUs could graduate lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers and pharmacists, but the Georgia Board of Regents have not created professional and graduate programs in law, medicine, architecture, engineering or pharmacy at state HBCUs,” according to the Senator.   

By comparison, at the private HBCU’s in the state, the endowments are:   Spelman College - $367 million; Morehouse College - $141 million; and Clark Atlanta - $71 million.

“The presidents of the state HBCUs were selected and installed in their presidencies by the chancellor of the Board of Regents without the courtesy and respect normally afforded to the PWIs. No search committee and no public community, faculty, student or alumni input,” has taken place, he asserts.

The states of Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina all border the state of Georgia and have state HBCUs with endowments more than three to nine times the endowments of all three Georgia public HBCUs combined, his report states.  And, many of the states have their own governing boards.

Contrast these endowment figures to selected schools in the University System of Georgia under

governance of the Georgia Board of Regents:   Georgia Tech - $2.074 billion; University of Georgia - $1.2 billion; and Georgia State University - $166 million. 

Sen. Jackson states that his reason for filing the bill late in the session was to open discussion this summer and fall, prior to next January’s session, to continue to gather information and public input from across the state regarding the need for a new approach to funding and managing Georgia’s HCBU’s.

The bill can be read at http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20192020/187095.pdf.  

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