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Community pushes back against Senate bill that would merge 3 south Georgia HBCUs into new system

The new name for the system would be Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University.
Credit: O'Donnell, Bernard
Fort Valley State University (13WMAZ)

ALBANY, Ga. — Georgia has 10 historically black colleges and universities. They're a source of honor and pride, especially for students and alumni. 

But there's talk of taking three from that list and consolidating them under one new system. And a lot of people are angry about it. 

The term HBCU was coined as part of the higher Education Act of 1965 by the US Department of Education. It defines a historically black college or university as one established before 1964. The principal mission is the education of African-American men and women. 

A lawmaker wants to merge three HBCUs into a new system - Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities - in South Georgia under Senate Bill 270. 

The new name for the system would be Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University, and it would run separately from the University of Georgia system. 

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The reason behind the merger is the number of students enrolling in the three universities has been down since 2010. State Sen. Lester Jackson argued that the new system would provide access to more resources and encourage more students to enroll. But many students and alumni are fighting to keep the schools alive just as they are now.

There's now a push to stop the merger and preserve the history at the schools - and the community showed up during a third forum about it Tuesday night. 

Opponents say it's important to preserve the history of the HBCUs, and they feel like a merger will keep future students away. 

“There are just some things that a child will get from an HBCU that they will not get from a non-HBCU and we need to keep it together. I mean it’s our history,” Sabrina Hayes explained to NBC affiliate WALB.

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SB 270 is not a new idea. A version of the bill has been introduced in previous years. While it did not make it out of the 2019 session - and five senators have withdrawn from the controversial bill - it's expected to be reintroduced in January of next year. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the schools would not be merged into one new school, rather they would be merged into one university system.

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