Albany State, Darton State merger to be first involving a Georgia HBCU

Georgia’s Board of Regents made history Tuesday, approving the initial plans for the first college merger in the state involving a historically black college or university.

The plan will consolidate Albany State University, a four-year HBCU, with Darton State College, a two-year institution where more students are white.

“We recognize this is a historic milestone for Albany State. We are committed to continuing to serve the HBCU mission and building upon the mission to serve an increasingly diverse student population and community,” University System of Georgia chancellor Hank Huckaby said.

Albany State’s student population is 88.9 percent black, 6.3 percent white, according to new enrollment data released by the University System last week. Darton State’s population is more evenly divided: 44.7 percent of students are black, and 48.5 percent are white.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on HBCUs, is usually against merging them with predominantly white institutions, as the HBCUs always lose out, she said.

“In the case of Georgia, Albany State would retain its name and would also retain its president. That’s important. I would want to make sure that the institution also retains a rigorous curriculum and that it’s not watered down,” said Gasman, who also heads up the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. “And I do think this is difficult on students that applied to Albany State for its specific mission as an HBCU, but that can be remedied if the president and institution spend time focusing on the unique history despite the merger.

Students on Albany State’s campus had mixed emotions about the merger, Laurentiis Gaines, Albany State’s student government president, said Tuesday afternoon.

“It gives us comfort that they want to keep (the HBCU) culture, but we know that with this type of merger it brings in politics racial feelings … We know what day and age we’re in,” Gaines said. “But we also understand that at the end of the day it’s not about race or our feelings, but about the service we can provide to our community.”

Both southwest Georgia schools have faced enrollment declines in recent years. Darton State has seen a 14 percent drop to 5,471 students this year since its peak in 2012 of 6,396. Albany State’s enrollment, 3,492 students, has dropped 25 percent in five years. The decline led officials recently to announce a deactivation plan for 10 of its academic programs.

The new institution, with about 9,000 students, will be the largest college in southwest Georgia. System officials say the move will allow both schools to improve student success. Albany State’s six-year graduation rate is 39.7 percent, much lower than the national average of 59 percent, but slightly above the 35 percent rate for HBCUs reported by the United Negro College Fund. Darton State’s three-year graduation rate is 10.4 percent.

Albany State’s current interim president, Arthur Dunning, will become the president of the merged institution, which will retain the Albany State University name. Darton State’s interim president, Paul Jones, will become president of Fort Valley State University, another of the system’s HBCUs.

The Albany State/Darton State consolidation will be the seventh consolidation in the University System in the past few years. The merger with Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State universities was finalized earlier this year. The system’s largest merger, between Georgia State University and Georgia Perimeter College, is currently underway.

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