Biden Administration Calls for $12 Billion Boost to HBCU Funding

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The Biden administration has called upon the principal authorities of 16 states to confront a glaring funding discrepancy surpassing $12 billion, affecting land-grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) compared to non-HBCU institutions, as disclosed by the US Department of Agriculture.

This initiative was undertaken through mutual letters conveyed to each state’s governors, spearheaded by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on a given Monday. These letters underscored how HBCUs have been stifled in their growth due to uneven funding when compared to other land-grant institutions within those mentioned states.

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Land-grant institutes encompass colleges and universities that deliver education in agriculture, science, military science, and engineering. Founded on federal land or financed through the proceeds from federal land sales granted to the state governments, these schools, by law, are designated to receive equitable distribution of state-provided funds, along with their HBCU counterparts.

The recipients of these letters included the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Cardona expressed concerns regarding the unacceptable financial disparities that have compelled numerous reputable HBCUs across the nation to operate with limited resources, and as a result, postpone essential investments encompassing everything from campus infrastructure, research, and development to student support services.

The inception of land-grant institutions was marked by the Morrill Act of 1862, advocating for higher education underscored by farming and mechanical skills. This legislation was later modified in 1890 and again in 1994, with the objective of addressing educational inequality among African Americans and Native Americans, as elaborated by the USDA.

Based on data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Survey spanning from 1987 to 2020, the administration calculated the disbursement each HBCU would have gathered if funds were disbursed equally.

The uneven financial allocations for the 1890 institutions across each state oscillated from $172 million to $2.1 billion. Out of over 100 land-grant institutions spanning 57 states and territories, only 18 states possess land-grant HBCUs. Among these, only Delaware and Ohio have facilitated fair funding for their respective universities, as noted by the USDA.

Reacting to the letters, Secretary Vilsack proclaimed the disparity in funding as a prompt for the governors to take action. Vilsack urged for a larger investment in the states’ HBCUs to provide the students with the equitable benefits they deserved and recognize their contribution to society and economy.

The underfunding of land-grant HBCUs has been a contentious issue for a considerable duration of time, attracting legal pursuits, such as the 2022 case where six students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University lodged a federal lawsuit against the state for alleged consistent underfunding spanning decades.