Reparations for HBCUs? The disparities in 16 states that led to billions in underfunding

The Hunt Institute's new report shows the 23-year gaps in funding in states where land-grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities operate.

Over a period of 23 years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Historically Black Colleges and Universities were given $12.8 billion less in funding than other land-grant institutions across 16 states, according to a brief released by the Hunt Institute. Delaware and Ohio were the lone outliers to keep the balance of funds level between HBCUs and other public universities.

However, the other states that haven’t, researchers say, may have violated the Second Morrill Act of 1890, which outlines that HBCUs must get dollar-for-dollar funding equivalent to those other land-grant institutions. The brief shows North Carolina has been the worst offender, with a disparity of more than $2.75 billion. The gaps in Florida and Tennessee over that stretch each total more than $1.9 billion.

Despite assistance from the federal government specifically targeting help and improvements to HBCUs during the pandemic and help from individuals states, the amounts don’t nearly cover the losses.

“While many state legislatures have targeted funding toward HBCUs in recent years, many institutions feel that the historic inequity must be remedied,” authors noted in the conclusion of the report, the first of three it plans to release on the topic. Hunt Institute President and CEO Dr. Javaid Siddiqi added, “the implications of funding on outcomes, including faculty and student recruitment and the impact on an institution’s research ability continue to pose a serious threat to how states support HBCUs given their history.”

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HBCUs also traditionally have not seen the kind of philanthropic gifts given to other colleges and universities. The Hunt Institute notes that HBCU endowments, the lifeblood of institutional support and stability, are collectively only about 30% of their counterparts’ coffers. That is why individual donations from people such as MacKenzie Scott have been so transformative—because they haven’t happened often or from many outside of HBCU alumni.

However, they still can’t remedy or justify the differences in funding over that more than two-decade stretch. A look at individual states shows the chasm that HBCUs have faced compared with other institutions:

  • North Carolina: $2.76 billion
  • Florida: $1.94 billion
  • Louisiana: $1.37 billion
  • Texas: $1.08 billion
  • Georgia: $577.2 million
  • West Virginia: $504 million
  • Arkansas: $457.5 million
  • Alabama: $437.3 million
  • South Carolina: $424 million
  • Maryland: $416.6 million
  • Oklahoma: $367.7 million
  • Mississippi: $306.3 million
  • Virginia: $147.7 million
  • Kentucky: $1.66 million
  • Missouri: $109.5 million

How reparations can be made, if any, for the gross differences is unclear. But Denise Smith, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, pointed out in a blog post last month that at least two states—Mississippi and Maryland—have been forced to fork over a combined $1.8 billion stemming from lawsuits over the inequities. Two others, Tennessee and Alabama, have faced similar claims.

“The damage wrought by this history of state and federal underfunding is clearly visible,” Smith writes. “While HBCUs have been starved for funding, the need for investments in technology, facilities, and infrastructure has continued to grow. The U.S. Government Accountability Office documented a deferred maintenance backlog of $30 million and $12 million, respectively, at the typical public and private HBCU. … If a racial reckoning nationwide results in HBCUs receiving the investment they need and deserve, college equity and affordability will be advanced for the first-generation, minority, and low-income students they serve.”

To further the discussion, the Hunt Institute plans to release the two reports and will share an op-ed piece soon on the topic.

“The next two briefs will focus on state examples of how legislatures are working to level the funding gap, however for several states the disparities in funding still exist,” Siddiqi said. “While the answer is complex, it includes consideration for which metrics states use in their performance-based funding model, closely examining economic needs and current attainment rates, and garnering bipartisan support to ensure students are put first.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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