The Biden administration has asked governors in 16 states to address a more than $12 billion funding disparity between land-grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their non-HBCU counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In joint letters sent Monday to each state’s governors, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that HBCUs have “not been able to make significant progress.” a manner comparable” to other land-grant institutions in these states. largely due to unbalanced funding.
A land-grant institution is a college or university that provides education in the fields of agriculture, science, military science, and engineering. Schools were also built on federal land or financed with proceeds from the sale of federal land granted to state governments. By law, according to the USDA, these schools and their HBCU counterparts “were required to receive an equitable distribution” of funds from their state governments.
Letters were sent to the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
“Unacceptable inequities in funding have forced many of our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities to operate with insufficient resources and delay critical investments in everything from campus infrastructure to research and development. development through student support services,” Cardona said in a statement.
Land grant institutions were first established by the Morrill Act of 1862 to help people pursue higher education in agriculture and mechanics. The legislation was amended in 1890, and again in 1994, to “address educational inequities between African Americans and Native Americans,” the USDA said.
To calculate the amount each HBCU would have received if funds had been provided equally, administration officials used data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Survey of Postsecondary Education 1987- 2020, the USDA said in a press release.
“Inequitable funding” of the 1,890 institutions in each state ranged from $172 million to $2.1 billion, according to the release.
There are more than 100 land grant institutions in 57 states and territories, according to the Department of Agriculture. Only 18 states have land-grant HBCUs. The USDA noted that only Delaware and Ohio have “fairly funded their respective universities.”
CNN contacted the 16 states that received letters from the federal government.
Jay Dardenne, commissioner of the Louisiana Division of Administration, confirmed to CNN that his office received the letter from Secretaries Cardona and Vilsack. Both Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge are land-grant HBCUs in the state.
Dardenne said in a statement that the source of the funding estimates included in the secretaries’ letter was “unclear.” He said his office was directed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to meet with the secretaries and learn more.
“This administration has consistently provided the required federal funding for the Southern University Ag Center as well as additional funding to stabilize and support Southern University New Orleans. However, we recognize that there is still work to be done to fully fund higher education,” Dardenne said in a statement.
Asked about the letters, Carter Elliott, a spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, told CNN that the governor “has been a strong advocate” for HBCUs in the state and has allocated millions of dollars in funding for help.
“Governor Moore will continue to support these life-changing colleges and universities that make Maryland a more equitable and competitive state,” Elliott said in a statement.
Secretary Vilsack said the funding gaps should be “a clarion call” for governors to act.
“We need governors to help us invest in their states’ HBCUs at the equitable level that their students deserve and that reflects their full contributions to our society and economy,” Vilsack said in a statement.
The issue of underfunding of land-grant HBCUs has been a topic of debate for years. In 2022, CNN previously reported that six students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University filed a federal lawsuit against the state, claiming the institution had been underfunded for decades.