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MS Legislators Again Considering University, HBCU Closures



Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, proposed a bill that would close three state universities.

After multiple attempts at downsizing and shuttering state universities over the last four decades, the Mississippi Senate is again considering a bill to close and consolidate some institutions of higher learning. 

 

Senate Bill 2726, submitted by Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, demands the state’s Institutions of Higher Learning board select three universities or colleges to close by June 30, 2028. The bill’s language works to keep certain universities off the chopping block, specifically medical universities and schools like Mississippi State University that provide agricultural research. The bill demands the board base its decision on schools’ “additional purposes,” which include medical services and agriculture or engineering research.  

 

In addition, the board must consider a school’s enrollment data, degrees offered, and their economic impact on the surrounding community, as well as tuition rates, scholarship endowments, federal aid, and grants for scholarship and research.


Critics say historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will be likely targets.

 

“It seems that evil never sleeps,” said retired Jackson State University Professor C. Liegh McInnis. “… This isn’t the first legislation that Polk has authored to reduce access to education for Afro-Mississippians or to attack the city of Jackson. Sadly, far too many Afro-Mississippians and African Americans don’t seem to realize that this attack on the city of Jackson and Mississippi’s HBCUs is just one battle in the ultimate war of the neo-Confederates to reestablish Jim Crow.” 

 

The bill notes closing some universities will require repealing whole sections of state law, however, and the public has protested past attempts to downsize or absorb universities. Public and private officials slammed the state’s 1993 court-ordered plan to “desegregate” historically Black colleges and universities by closing them and merging them with white universities. That plan involved folding Mississippi Valley State University into predominantly white Delta State University and putting the combined entity under the control of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. It also proposed folding HBCU Alcorn State University into Mississippi State University in Starkville. 

 

Massive protest shuttered the 1993 plan, but the State College Board unsuccessfully mulled another plot to merge universities in 2010, with the approval of then Jackson State University President Ronald Mason, Jr. Mason succumbed to pressure soon after the failed attempt and left his JSU post

 

Studies suggest the potential impact downsizing could have on Black doctorates is significant. African-Americans and Latinos are still underrepresented among U.S. doctoral degree recipients, and research suggests a high proportion of Black and Latino students with doctorates received undergraduate degrees from HBCUs. In fact, HBCUs constitute eight of the top 10 feeder universities steering racially minority students into doctorate degrees, and they comprise 19 of the top 50 institutions clearing the way for Black doctorate recipients. 

 

The bill, which currently sits in the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, allows for the transfer of shuttered universities’ property, funds, and assets to other state agencies, political subdivisions, or sold to nonprofits. 

 

 

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