The University System of Georgia generated nearly $17 billion dollars of economic impact for Georgia last year, accounting for more than three percent of new jobs created, and giving the economy $1.52 cents for every dollar spent on higher education.
The state’s three public historically black colleges, Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University, accounted for more than $632 million of that impact, just over six percent of the total output from 28 research, comprehensive and lower-tier institutions.
In the last several years, Georgia has been a national leader in the aggressive consolidation of its schools, with seven total mergers since 2011 and two future mashups on deck. Two of its HBCUs have been directly impacted by the culture of consolidation – Albany State, which merged with Darton State College to create a “new” Albany State University, and Savannah State, the largest of the three black colleges which will soon exist in the shadows of a consolidated Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University.
It is a little too early to tell what will happen with this new culture of spending efficiency and decreased emphasis on institutional missions. Albany State saw a 12 percent enrollment drop before consolidating with Darton State’s 24 percent decrease in 2016, and Savannah State is just a few miles away from Armstrong State, which outpaced SSU in economic impact by more than $60 million and is about to get bigger by way of its GSU merger.
It is not the prettiest of pictures for HBCU culture in Albany and Savannah, but at least we know that today, both institutions are safe from closure. But what about Fort Valley State? The university is highly regarded for its regional and national imprints in agricultural research and extension, helping to build capacity for black farmers, and quietly earning millions in funded research for food preservation, crop protection, and reducing food allergies.
Wildcat athletics is a major driver for Middle Georgia’s tourism prospects, and the university provides nearly all the area’s African American cultural curation and exposure. But FVSU is among Georgia’s hardest hit colleges in enrollment, budget cuts and now, economic impact. Seven schools recorded lower economic impact than FVSU, and with nearby (also consolidated) Middle Georgia State University offering more than $100 million more in economic impact than FVSU, what is the future of the campus?
We’ve seen the impact of proximate consolidation on SSU, which last year dropped to NCAA Division II citing cost concerns.
Not every consolidation to wipe out an HBCU has to be a literal merger or institutional absorption. Sometimes states can sit one large, predominantly white institution miles away from a small historically black school and let budget cuts and human nature take care of the rest. It appears that the USG traded one HBCU to all but eliminate two others – a bigger Albany State for a decimated Savannah State and Fort Valley State.
For a state where HBCU graduates and supporters worked so hard to stop blatant attacks on their schools, it is sad that their work is being undone by more covert approaches from higher education officials, with almost no opposition to the destruction.