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Land-Grant HBCUs Underfunded by $13 Billion, Biden Administration Says

The underfunding limited HBCUs from competing for research grants other institutions pursued, the administration said.

Two cabinet secretaries from the Biden administration have sent letters to 16 U.S. governors, informing them that, over the past three decades or more, their states have drastically underfunded Historically Black Colleges and Universities that receive land grants.

The letters were sent on Monday by Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Only two states that had land-grant HBCUs — Delaware and Ohio — provided an equitable distribution of funding.

Citing data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, the department secretaries said that a funding gap for these states’ land-grant HBCUs “could have supported infrastructure and student services” and would have “better positioned” HBCUs “to compete for research grants” that were otherwise more accessible to other institutions.

In a press release announcing the letters from Cardona and Vilsack, the secretaries said that states that had chosen “to open a second land-grant university to serve Black students were required to provide an equitable distribution of state funds” — but that standard clearly hasn’t been reached in the past few decades, they added.

In total, the funding gap for land-grant HBCUs was around $13 billion — meaning that, while other land-grant institutions were given the proper amount of funding, HBCUs were not. In five of the states mentioned in the letters (Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina), the gap in funding for land-grant institutions (between HBCUs and other universities) ranged from $1 billion to $2 billion.

According to the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, a land-grant institution is one “that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862, 1890, and 1994.” Land-grant institutions were formed to “teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.”

By not allocating sufficient funds to land-grant HBCUs, these states have done a grave disservice to students of these institutions, the Biden administration secretaries said.

Within the letters, Cardona said the following:

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. … These institutions and the talented, diverse students they serve must have equitable funding in order to reach their full potential and continue driving innovation.

Vilsack reiterated that assessment in strong terms, and demanded that states take immediate action to rectify the differences in funding:

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.

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