Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has proposed combining the state's three public black colleges into a single institution, Jackson State University. While Barbour said that campuses would continue to exist at what are now Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University, the proposal marks the most dramatic state challenge in recent years to the continuation of some public black colleges -- and the move comes in the state whose higher education system was the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that governs college desegregation.
Barbour stressed that the merged institutions would survive in some form, he also said that this reorganization should result in the elimination of many programs, which supporters of black colleges fear will come largely from their institutions. The governor's budget statement said that all of the state's public colleges would see "a rationalization of class offerings.... Every university would be expected to reduce costs by consolidating or eliminating programs not pulling their financial weight." (The plan in total would turn eight universities in the state system into five.)
"I think this would be another act of discriminating against black colleges," said Julius L. Chambers, a leading civil rights lawyer who is president emeritus of a historically black institution, North Carolina Central University.
Chambers noted that mergers of black educational institutions in the South have not historically gone well for black students and educators. "What happens to the faculty at black colleges" when programs are consolidated? he asked. And if the consolidations result in smaller branch campuses where Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley are now full institutions, "how do you ensure that the same number of minority students end up in college? Why aren't they asking questions about minority enrollments?"
Not only is the governor making the proposal, but some powerful legislators have also been talking up the merger idea, not restricting it to black colleges (although other lawmakers are likely to oppose any mergers). Many advocates for black colleges fear that shortages in state budgets could lead to an increase in such proposals.
Any merger of black colleges in Mississippi would have particular political significance because of United States v. Fordice, a 1992 Supreme Court decision that found Mississippi had failed to desegregate its higher education system. The decision specifically encouraged the state to consider mergers and to cut down on duplication of academic programs as a means of desegregating -- but the decision did not order mergers.
The theory behind these suggestions is that duplication of academic programs at historically black and predominantly white institutions encourages white students to enroll at one set of institutions and black students at another -- and that the elimination of these choices will lead to a situation where black and white students enroll at the same institutions.
But supporters of black colleges have another theory about mergers: that they have consistently resulted in the elimination of options at institutions with a history of serving black students. Justice Clarence Thomas, while concurring with the Fordice decision, warned in a separate opinion that there was a danger of interpreting the ruling in ways that could hurt black colleges.
Writing that "I think it undisputable that these institutions have succeeded in part because of their distinctive histories and traditions," he argued that states should not assume that the path to desegregation would be found with fewer historically black institutions. "It would be ironic, to say the least, if the institutions that sustained blacks during segregation were themselves destroyed in an effort to combat its vestiges," he wrote.
Mississippi eventually settled the case not with mergers, but with a pledge to spend much more money on improving programs at black colleges so that they would be better able to serve all students. But not all of the promises made in that settlement have been carried out. Just this month, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reported on how the state's pledge to create a $35 million private endowment to support black colleges never gained more than the initial $1 million that was used to start the endowment seven years ago, and that many in the state assume the promised funds will never be provided.
In light of the state's pledge to desegregate by building up black colleges, it's "truly shocking" that the governor would propose merging the three black institutions into one, said Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania who has written extensively on the history of black colleges.
"I don't think you can take the Fordice settlement out of the equation," she said. "They settled the case by saying that they were going to bolster the HBCUs. They didn't provide the money and now they are going to merge them?.... This is money that has been long, long owed to black colleges, and now they are going to take so much away from them."
Because black colleges never got all the money they were owed, Gasman said, they will be at a disadvantage in programs reviews of duplicative programs. "This raises all kinds of suspicions in light of the state's history with its black colleges," she said.
Further, she questioned the idea that it makes educational sense to merge Alcorn and Mississippi Valley into Jackson State. While they are all historically black, she noted that they aren't right next door to one another (Alcorn is 80 miles southwest of Jackson and Valley is 100 miles north of Jackson) and they differ in campus environment, with Jackson State focused on an urban mission and the other two located in rural areas.
"These institutions are very different, and they are 80 or more miles apart," Gasman said. "Why are they being asked to consolidate? One can assume that they are similar because they are historically black, but that neglects the diversity of these institutions."
Grambling State University could be facing some shake-ups in its course offerings and how it markets itself to increase enrollment.
It definitely could attract more students by offering its most popular courses at locations other than its campus, said Randy Moffett, president of the University of Louisiana System.
The issue was raised Monday by Tony Clayton, a member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors and member of the Postsecondary Education Review Commission.
"The perception is my campus (in north Baton Rouge) is located in a high-crime area and Grambling is located in a high-poverty area," Clayton said, "which makes it hard to attract a lot of diversity in students."
Both historically black institutions could prosper by moving some courses to alternative sites, Clayton said. Southern University at Shreveport proved that by moving its nursing program to downtown Shreveport, where it now has a 50 percent white enrollment.
In testifying before the panel, Moffett agreed that "oftentimes perception is reality," so Grambling is somewhat limited in attracting students because of its location. But answering another panel member's question, Moffett said he would never propose moving the campus.
"Focusing on a limited number of programs might be something we need to look at," he said, adding that GSU has the highest graduation rate of computer science majors and has successful nursing and teacher preparation programs.
Grambling could draw more students by establishing satellite sites and offering online courses, Moffett said.
"It's the least active of our eight universities" in offering distance learning, he said. "Grambling needs to open its eyes up and make the university more accessible to students in other places"» Take the product where the students are."
Committee member David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education that is based in Boulder, Colo., said he has examined Grambling and "the numbers look troubling. That's an institution that to be a strong institution needs exceptional consideration and funding. It's clearly struggling to maintain enrollment."
Part of the problem, he said, is "its location. They almost had to make the circle smaller so the two institutions in that region would not overlap. I understand the tradition and history of that institution, but it's a troubling set of numbers that you face." Moffett agreed.
"It is the most challenged university in our system" and although Louisiana Tech has shared some faculty members with Grambling, to make further improvements the ULS board will "look at some collaborative partnerships with nearby institutions," including the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
But other changes could be necessary, he said, such as being "systematic in what we might eliminate" and "how and where they recruit."
"We don't have a magic solution," Moffett told the panel.
Marc Musick of the Southern Region Education Board, said he believes Moffett and the UL System "are on the right track" to improving all of the schools in the system.
A dozen students and a bus driver were treated for injuries after three buses carrying members of the Grambling State University marching band were involved in a traffic crash in southern Arkansas on Friday.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler says none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening.
Sadler says four buses from the school in north Louisiana were near Fordyce, Ark., on Friday when the second bus slowed. The two trailing buses each hit the bus ahead.
In all, 126 students were aboard. The injured were taken to a Fordyce hospital.
Grambling was traveling to Little Rock where the Tigers were to take on the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions at 1 Saturday in Little Rock.
Fordyce is about 65 miles south of Little Rock.
Second such crash in recent weeks The Grambling crash was the second such accident in recent weeks involving an HBCU band. On October 31, a charter bus carrying 42 members of the Morehouse College marching band tipped over after it skidded off Interstate 75, injuring several students on their way to a football game.
The driver of the bus lost control while trying to avoid another vehicle that was moving into his lane. Thirteen band members were taken to area hospitals in ambulances with non-life-threatening injuries. The other 29 were also taken to hospitals as a precaution.
The bus was one of three chartered by Morehouse to go to AlbanyState University for a football game.
Roads were wet from rainy conditions, and weather was likely a contributing factor in the accident.
Norfolk State University President Carolyn Meyers has been named one of three finalists for the top post at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
The announcement comes as Meyers, who is in her fourth year at Norfolk State, has come under scrutiny by its Board of Visitors. She was the subject of a lengthy closed-session meeting last month, along with reviews of internal audits.
Morgan State's Board of Regents is expected to announce a new leader by Dec. 15 and have the person in place by the first of the year.
Enrollment at Norfolk State increased 10 percent this year from 6,325 last fall, and many supporters hail Meyers' vision to continue to increase enrollment and raise the academic profile of incoming students.
Critics, however, have said Meyers hasn't pushed the university far enough in the areas of technology and research and in forging better partnerships with cities to advance the school.
Meyers, NSU's fourth president, has spent more than 30 years in higher education, including positions at North Carolina A&T State University, Georgia Tech and the National Science Foundation. She holds mechanical engineering degrees from Howard University and a chemical engineering doctorate from Georgia Tech.
Another finalist for the Morgan State post is Calvin Jamison, who is the vice president for business affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas. A former Richmond city manager, he also held faculty and administrative positions at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The other candidate, David Wilson, is chancellor of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin Extension and has more than 30 years in higher education.
Morgan State, like NSU, is a historically black college, with about 7,000 students. MSU is one of Maryland's four public research universities.
The finalists will visit Morgan State's campus this month. The new president will replace Earl Richardson, who will step down Dec. 31 after 25 years as president. The search process began in January and included the review of more than 100 applications, according to Morgan State news releases.
S.C. State University efforts to meet its funded enrollment of 5,102 students this fall fell short 557 students short. At final count SC State's fall enrollment total 4,545 students, 343 fewer than last fall.
State enrolled fewer new students than expected and had fewer returning students come back. The enrollment drop was a jolt to the school's goal of having 6,000 students by 2014.
The drop in enrollment is contributing to the school's already nagging financial challenges and raising questions about its enrollment procedures and 2014 plans.
"I'm concerned about the number," S.C. State president George Cooper said during an interview in his office last week.
Roughly 300 new and transfer students who were expected to enroll never did, said Charles N. Davis, S.C. State's vice president for student affairs. Another 900 full-time and part-time students - including 118 seniors - who were expected to return to school did not, David said.
"A lot of it was finance," Davis said. "They just didn't have the finances to close the loop."
Some students, Davis said, did not attend because they were as little as $1,200 to $1,800 short of what they needed to attend S.C. State.
Cooper said the school looked for ways to help, but, ultimately, could not enroll students who could not pay.
"We show compassion," he said, "but we also have to make a business decision."
SC State has relied on state money, in large part, that has been cut as legislators struggle to balance the state budget.
The most recent cut, which erased $729,343 from the school's budget, gave the university less flexibility to help its students, which traditionally have come from some of the state's poorest households.
Cooper said student surveys have shown the university needs to improve its enrollment process.
"(Students) tell us they have to go to too many places to get things done," he said. "We've had some customer service sessions on campus with faculty and staff. We can do better."
There are plans to centralize student services, but Cooper and Davis also said the surveys showed some factors are beyond the university's control.
BUDGET CUTS AHEAD
Now, the university must focus on closing a $6 million deficit in its $70 million education and general budget, caused, in part, by the drop in enrollment.
A budget committee of the school's board of trustees recently suggested a series of actions - 10-day furloughs, job cuts, position freezes and the use of contingency and federal stimulus money - to plug the gap.
The full board is scheduled to consider those recommendations at a meeting next month.
That meeting is also likely to continue a conversation administration officials and board members have been having about the appropriate size of the university.
To get to 6,000 students by 2014, the university would have to increase its enrollment by 1,455 in five years - a tall order considering the school's enrollment has decreased in each of the past two years.
A bigger enrollment, Cooper said, does not necessarily mean more revenue, especially if the additional students have unmet financial needs the university would be compelled to meet.
"That could be a train wreck," Cooper said.
One source of support the university has been able to count on is its alumni, Cooper said.
S.C. State's alumni, some of whom have endured furloughs and cuts in their own pay, gave the university $770,000 during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. That was an increase of 23 percent from the previous year.
As he sat at a conference table in his office Thursday, Cooper said he was looking forward to the Homecoming game on Saturday, when the university planned to announce an anonymous donor has given $250,000 to S.C. State.
That gift is the largest one-time gift from an alum in the university's history, Cooper said.
The gift is particularly important, Cooper noted, because it is unrestricted, giving administrators the discretion to use it in whatever ways they think best serves the university.
Three-quarters of S.C. State's unrestricted gifts go to need-based aid, helping the university prevent the type of sharp enrollment declines it is dealing with now.
Cooper said increased alumni giving is part of the answer to the challenges faced by S.C. State, but the difficult economic climate leaves him with no clear blueprint for success.