Lawmakers push for planning districts to strengthen Georgia’s HBCUs

Georgia has 10 historically black colleges and universities, including three public schools.

Credit: AJC FILE

Credit: AJC FILE

Georgia has 10 historically black colleges and universities, including three public schools.

Georgia’s 10 historically Black colleges and universities could be strengthened by creating coordinated planning districts, a new report found.

A Georgia state Senate study committee, created last year, identified ways to invest in the schools, which combined enroll more than 20,000 Black undergraduate students and are responsible for more than 12,000 jobs.

One recommendation that emerged: Passing legislation that would allow for the establishment of HBCU innovation and economic prosperity planning districts. Through such districts, the schools could work with local, state and federal leaders plus private partners to secure funding for and develop projects to benefit the colleges as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.

The planning groups could tackle priorities such as broadband internet access, campus building and housing upgrades, pedestrian and bike paths and workforce training, the report states.

Sonya Halpern

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

”Our HBCUs are anchor institutions in the communities in which they sit,” said state Sen. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, who led the study committee.

“Leveraging them as community and economic tools is a new idea and a new approach to building up that infrastructure around them,” she said.

Georgia’s HBCUs generate an estimated $1.3 billion annually in economic impact, the report found.

Experts said the schools face funding challenges to build and modernize campus facilities. They have been historically underfunded compared to predominantly white schools and, on average, have smaller endowments.

“The big challenge, in my opinion, is getting the state as a whole — policy makers — to see HBCUs as the true economic and cultural asset that it has been for the state of Georgia,” said Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Southern Equity.

He sees an opportunity to support the low-income neighborhoods that surround many HBCUs by investing in the local colleges, which can be a magnet to attract businesses looking to hire diverse, talented employees.

The committee’s other recommendations include forming a bipartisan HBCU legislative caucus, which Halpern wants to launch during this legislative session. Another suggestion is to create subcommittees within the state Senate and House higher education committees to review HBCU issues.

Lawmakers also recommended that the state’s historically Black colleges join together to publish a biennial report detailing, in part, how the schools work with state agencies.

Georgia’s HBCUs

The state has 10 historically Black colleges and universities, including three public schools. They are:

Albany State University*

Clark Atlanta University

Fort Valley State University*

Interdenominational Theological Center

Morehouse College

Morehouse School of Medicine

Morris Brown College

Paine College

Savannah State University*

Spelman College

*Denotes a school within the University System of Georgia