United States V. Fordice: Mississippi Higher Education without Public Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

The United States v. Fordice was decided in the United States Supreme Court in 1992, and it represents the most recent ruling on desegregation for those states that have historically maintained racially segregated systems of higher education. This study raises the question of what would Mississippi higher education be without public HBCUs? This study will examine the impact of the closure, merger, and mandated enrollment of public HBCUs in Mississippi. Specifically, it will examine the impact of the closures, mergers, and mandated integration of HBCUs in Mississippi on student access and selected student outcomes for African Americans. Time-series statistical modeling is used in this study to predict the participation and outcomes of African American students for Mississippi's current system of higher education with HBCUs. It also provides policy prescriptions to states that are seeking to dismantle the dual system of higher education.

Key words: Black colleges, policy prescriptions, student access

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"It would be ironic, to say the least, if the institutions that sustained Blacks during segregation were themselves destroyed in an effort to combat its vestiges." - Justice Charles Thomas, United States v. Fordice, 1992


Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are important and unique institutions in American higher education. Nationally, these institutions grant high proportions of baccalaureate and graduate degrees earned by African Americans. In fact, more than one-fourth of all bachelor's degrees awarded to Blacks were from HBCUs (Provasnik, Shafer, & Snyder, 2004). Although mese instimtions only comprise 3% of the nation's two- and four-year institutions, HBCUs are responsible for producing 28% of all bachelor's degrees, 15 % of all master's degrees and 17 % of all first professional degrees earned by African American (Gasman et al., 2007; Schnittger, 2001). There are currently 103 HBCUs (51 private, 52 public) in nineteen states, Washington, D.C., and the U. S. Virgin Islands (Gasman et al, 2007; Provasnik et al., 2004). The pubUc system of higher education in Mississippi includes eight four-year institutions - three of which are HBCUS with more than 50% of African Americans enrolled in them (Minor, 2008).

Although HBCUs are an important part of American higher education, these institutions face new chaUenges that threaten their survival. In the last two decades, educational poUcy promoting equal opportunity and social justice have been under attack (AUen & Jewell, 2002; Brown, 1999, 2001; Freeman & Thomas, 2002). In some states, this has meant the possible elimination of public HBCUs that have been described by some as a waste of taxpayer money because they provide options for students who are thought to be academically unprepared (Brown, 1999, 2001; Stefkovich & Leas, 1994). This includes a new debate in Georgia legislation where former state senator, Seth Harp (R), had suggested merging two HBCUs in the state with predominately White coUeges in close proximity as a way to save money in a struggling economy, and as a means to end the vestiges of segregation in Georgia (Clark, 2008; Salzer & White, 2008a, 2008b). Moreover, on November 16, 2009, Governor Haley Barbour (Miss.), made a budget recommendation to the Mississippi state legislature that the state's three HBCUs - Mississippi Valley State University, Alcorn State University, and Jackson State University - be merged into a single institution of higher learning. Barbour and Harp's suggestions to merge these institutions has ignited a new debate on the future of public HBCUs as the nation continues to celebrate the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States of America.

HBCUs find themselves in a re-emerged discussion on whether they, while remaining predominately Black, should exist in a post-Brown v. …