HBCU Students, Alumni to Sue if North Carolina Doesn’t Address $2.1 Billion in Underfunding

Letters to the governor threaten legal action if he doesn't immediately increase funding to North Carolina A&T State University.
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Published on November 14, 2023
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  • Attorneys representing students and alumni of North Carolina A&T State University sent a demand letter to the governor seeking an immediate increase in funding.
  • The letter is part of a broader nationwide effort to increase funding to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Gov. Roy Cooper responded that he is committed to supporting HBCUs in North Carolina but gave few specifics as to what this means.
  • A requested face-to-face meeting is the last step before N.C. A&T students and alumni take the matter to court.

Students and alumni of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) — one of the state's 12 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) — are threatening legal action if the state does not immediately increase allocation and future funding to the university.

In an Oct. 24 letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, lawyers representing N.C. A&T students and alumni said that stark disparities in funding allocations between predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and HBCUs amounted to over $2 billion in lost funding for the university.

The only remedy to this, the letter said, was the governor's immediate action — or else they'll take legal action as appropriate in the Federal courts. Cooper's general counsel responded with a letter stating that he'd work toward solutions with the state Legislature.

But it was not enough. Days later, Attorney Carlos Moore, writing on behalf of the students and alumni of N.C. A&T, called the letter out for its vagueness:

While your letter spoke of the governor's desire for greater state investment in all public HBCUs in North Carolina by the state legislature, it offered no specifics or a timeline to get this done. Your letter also did not speak to any advocacy by the governor for not only greater funding, but equitable funding.

A Decades-Old Problem

The developments in North Carolina are the latest in an ongoing battle between students and alumni from HBCUs, the federal government, and individual states concerning funding issues at the nation's HBCUs.

The battle started in September when the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture sent joint letters to 16 state governors in September urging them to address the underfunding of HBCUs. That underfunding has continued since the inception of HBCUs. In the last 30 years alone, the departments said N.C. A&T missed out on $2.1 billion.

HBCUs nationwide account for only 3% of higher educational institutions, yet impact the employment market by $15 billion each year. This despite being underfunded by nearly $12 billion by their respective states when compared to other, non-HBCUs.

N.C. A&T contributes significantly to these figures as the largest HBCU in the nation, even with its lack of equitable funding. Its website states that it is the #1 producer of degrees awarded to African Americans in North Carolina, and that it is home to over 13,000 students.

Increased funding to the university, the letter to Cooper stated, would ensure that all of these students regardless of their racial or ethnic background, have access to quality education.

When the federal government's letters went out, Cooper issued a response, which cited his commitment to supporting HBCUs in [North Carolina], including North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University.

He also spelled out, in detail, the actions he said he was taking to address the funding issues:

Specifically regarding NC A&T, earlier this year, I proposed more than $20 million in recurring funding to build capacity in NC A&T's research and cooperative extension programs and expand their research faculty capacity as they pursue becoming a premier research institution. I am pleased that proposal is fully funded in the latest state budget.

While Cooper further acknowledged that these efforts need to be part of a broader and more robust mission to solve more than a century of chronic underfunding and that we must do more, he stopped short of saying what, exactly, that more would encompass.

Cooper did, though, state in the letter that he directed [his] Office of State Budget and Management and members of [his] policy office to fully examine the data on the funding inequities and to work towards solutions to share with the General Assembly. It was a promise his office reiterated in its response to the letter from the students and alumni of N.C. A&T.

That response, dated Nov. 2, referenced Cooper's letter to the federal government, and added, throughout his tenure in office, Governor Cooper has been committed to supporting HBCUs, including NC A&T.

[Governor Cooper] has consistently advocated for our HBCUs, including greater state investment in all public HBCUs by our state legislature. He will continue to encourage these important investments so that North Carolina's HBCUs have the resources they need and deserve to continue their essential work and mission, the letter stated further.

Next Steps

Moore stated in his letter that since equitable funding is paramount to his clients, further discussion is the only option. He requested a meeting with Cooper and his general counsel, Eric Fletcher, to hopefully flesh out specifics for reaching a reasonable resolution.

During this proposed face to face meeting we would like to talk ... a realistic timeline, and possible solutions to rectify severe inequitable funding of your state's HBCUs for the last several decades, Moore wrote.

Moore told BestColleges that this is his clients' attempt to give the governor a chance to show he's serious, about ensuring HBCUs deserve equitable funding.

We hope we can work this out directly with the governor, Moore said. We are trying to avoid the cost of litigation to the taxpayers of the state. But if we can't, we're off to the races, and we'll file and take it to the federal courts.

Moore requested the sit-down interview take place by Dec. 15.