Departments of Education, Agriculture Urge States to Fill the HBCU Funding Gap

Just two out of 18 states equitably fund their HBCUs. The government wants the other 16 states to keep up.
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Published on September 19, 2023
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  • Sixteen states inequitably fund historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to the federal government.
  • The federal government sent letters to the states' governors, asking them to give HBCUs the funds they're legally entitled to.
  • The 16 states reportedly underfund their HBCUs by a margin of millions to billions of dollars.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) get over $12 billion less in funding than comparable institutions — and the Biden administration wants states to remedy it.

There are 18 states with HBCUs in the U.S., but only two — Delaware and Ohio — fund them equitably, according to the federal government.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack sent letters to the other 16 states' governors Sept. 18, asking them to develop a plan to adequately fund their respective HBCUs.

On the low end, Kentucky underfunded its HBCU by $172 million in the last 30 years. The state with the biggest discrepancy, Tennessee, should've given its HBCU over $2.1 billion in the same time frame, according to its letter.

"Unacceptable funding inequities have forced many of our nation's distinguished Historically Black Colleges and Universities to operate with inadequate resources and delay critical investments in everything from campus infrastructure to research and development to student support services," Cardona said in a press release.

"The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to have made record investments in our HBCUs, but to compete in the 21st century we need state leaders to step up and live up to their legally required obligations to our historically Black land-grant institutions."

What Does Each State Owe Its HBCU?

Every state has at least one land-grant university funded under the First Morrill Act of 1862. Under The Second Morrill Act of 1890, states could open an additional land-grant to serve Black students (HBCUs). The second act required states that open HBCUs to equitably distribute funds between the different land-grant organizations.

So, what should equitable distribution look like? Here's what the secretaries' letters say the states should've given their HBCUs over the past 30 years:

  • $2.1 billion to Tennessee State University
  • $2.1 billion to North Carolina A&T State University
  • $2 billion to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
  • $1.1 billion to Prairie View A&M University in Texas
  • $1.1 billion to Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana
  • $853 million to West Virginia State University
  • $603 million to Fort Valley State University in Georgia
  • $527 million to Alabama A&M University
  • $470 million to South Carolina State University
  • $419 million to Langston University in Oklahoma
  • $362 million to Lincoln University in Missouri
  • $331 million to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • $321 million to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore
  • $258 million to Alcorn State University in Mississippi
  • $227 million to Virginia State University
  • $172 million to Kentucky State University

Without this funding, HBCUs have still made strides, according to the press release. But if they had the funds they were entitled to, HBCUs could've advanced their research, infrastructure, and student outcomes leagues faster than they have.

The secretaries said they're willing to work with each state to develop a plan to bring their HBCUs' funding up to par over a few years. If the states don't, the secretaries note it could mean economic disadvantages. HBCUs only account for 3% of higher education institutions, yet they impact the economy by $15 billion and generate over 134,000 jobs annually, according to the letters.

"We need governors to help us invest in their states' HBCUs at the equitable level their students deserve, and reflective of all they contribute to our society and economy," Vilsack said in the press release.

"The documented discrepancies are a clarion call for governors to act without delay to provide significant support for the 1890 land-grant institutions in their respective states. Failing to do so will have severe and lasting consequences to the agriculture and food industry at a time when it must remain resilient and competitive."