Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have sent joint letters to 16 state governors, urging them to take action to address the long-standing underfunding of historically Black land-grant colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Federal analysis reveals that 16 out of 19 HBCUs have been underfunded by their respective states, with a total funding gap of $13 billion, based on per-student state spending data from 1987 to 2020.
Equitable funding disparities in HBCU
Only Ohio and Delaware were found to have provided equitable funding to their HBCU land-grants, while others had funding disparities ranging from $172 million to $2.14 billion compared to predominantly white institutions.
Advocates view this federal intervention as a positive step in raising awareness of the issue, although the letters lack punitive measures. Historically Black land-grant universities are meant to receive equitable funding compared to predominantly white land-grant institutions under federal law.
However, the impact of these letters and the federal government’s future actions remain uncertain.
President of Tennessee State University, Glenda Glover, noted that equitable state funding could have significantly benefited these universities, enhancing infrastructure, student services, and competitiveness for research grants.
For example, Tennessee State University could have used an additional $2.1 billion over 33 years to update facilities, offer more scholarships, and improve academic programs.
While some states have taken steps to address underfunding, the federal government’s involvement signals increased attention to this ongoing issue.