Berry College has settled its legal dispute with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) over its right to advertise in that state. The dispute was over billboards in the Nashville area that showed two Berry students on the campus with the college’s name and the phrase “26,000 Acres of Opportunity.”
THEC had sought to make Berry pay large fees not charged to Tennessee private colleges in order to advertise in Tennessee.
THEC officials had asserted that placing the billboards in Tennessee constituted conducting educational activity in that state. Berry has no campuses in Tennessee and does not offer distance or online education.
The settlement provides a waiver of the THEC rules for advertising and solicitation because Berry meets the same standards required of Tennessee colleges.
“We are very pleased that the settlement agreement provides exactly the resolution we were looking for, and grateful to the Tennessee Attorney General’s office for working with us in good faith to address our concerns about the Tennessee law and its application,” said Berry President Steve Briggs. “It is important that high school students and their families have open access to the information they need to make informed college decisions, and that colleges compete on a level playing field in the market.”
After being threatened with fines, Berry sued THEC in May, alleging discriminatory treatment that violated the college’s constitutional rights under the Commerce Clause and its rights of commercial free speech. U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy of the Northern District of Georgia dismissed Berry’s lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds in June, agreeing with Tennessee that the suit should instead be in federal court in Tennessee. Before Berry refiled its suit, the parties entered settlement discussions.
More than 200 of Berry’s 2,100 undergraduate students come from Tennessee.
“Berry has welcomed students from Tennessee for many decades; Tennessee families are attracted to Berry because of our strong academic program, our amazing campus, our affordability, and our student work experience program, which is the nation’s largest,” Mr. Briggs said.