- Georgia and its public higher education system are facing a lawsuit arguing they chronically underfunded their three public historically Black colleges for decades.
- The lawsuit, filed by three HBCU alumni in federal court Tuesday, accused the University System of Georgia, or USG, of diverting resources from Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities to bolster academic programs at traditionally White institutions.
- Plaintiffs asked the court to appoint a mediator who would recommend how to remedy the alleged deficient funding. System spokesperson Kristina Torres declined to comment in an email Thursday, saying USG had not yet been served the lawsuit, a copy of which Higher Ed Dive had provided to her.
For decades, state governments have unevenly funded some historically Black institutions by not matching federal grants designated for them — a legal requirement under laws establishing land-grant institutions. Land-grants were established to promote agricultural and technical education.
One of the nation’s 19 public land-grant HBCUs, Tennessee State University, attracted attention for this issue after a 2021 audit revealed the state may have shortchanged it by as much as $544 million over several decades.
Recently, the other public land-grant HBCUs have been in the spotlight. The Biden administration last month sent letters to 16 governors across the political spectrum informing them their states had deprived their public land-grant HBCUs of collectively more than $12 billion in funding over 30-plus years. This was the first time the federal government ever tried to quantify financial discrimination against the HBCUs.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, received one such letter, which argued Fort Valley State should have gotten an additional $603 million in state money over those decades.
The letter did not reference the other two colleges in the new lawsuit, Albany State or Savannah State, neither of which are land-grant institutions.
The complaint argued the alleged funding prejudice by state and system officials violated federal civil rights law and the Constitution. The trio accused the system and state of a range of discriminatory practices, from historically White institutions duplicating HBCU academic programs to failing “to enlarge Georgia’s public HBCUs’ brand beyond their race-based identity.”
Georgia has an obligation under federal law to not replicate HBCU programs, the lawsuit says. However, it alleged that the traditionally White institution Middle Georgia State University offers more than half of the same “non-core” programs as nearby Fort Valley State.
These problems stretch back many years, according to the complaint. It pointed out Georgia did not comply with a 1974 plan it created with the federal government to achieve educational desegregation. This led to the state striking a revised deal with the feds four years later.
But even after Georgia revised its policies, the lawsuit said the system’s governing board “was never committed, as purported in the 1978 Plan, to establish or give priority to graduate, specialized, or professional programs at the HBCUs.”
“The evidence lies with the fact that none of the three public HBCUs have a single specialized or professional program offering, with the exception of the Educational Specialist degree offered at Albany State University.”
Moreover, facilities at the public HBCUs are subpar compared to those at their predominantly White counterparts, the lawsuit alleged.
It called for the state to fund the HBCUs “at a level where they can reach equity” with traditionally White institutions. This could present an issue, as the state by and large funds its public colleges based on how many students the USG institutions enroll.
HBCUs tend to see less state money per student, according to the lawsuit. For example, in fall 2022, state appropriations amounted to about $9,655 per student at the University of Georgia, a state flagship institution, versus $4,166.89 per student at Albany State.
“It is critical that Georgia’s public HBCUs receive appropriate funding to fulfill the rights that many of the State’s Black students have been historically deprived of,” the lawsuit said.
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