The Persisting Inequalities Facing the 19 HBCU Land-Grant Universities

A new report from The Century Foundation shows that the 19 historically Black universities that are also 1890 land-grant colleges have not received the same level of federal financial support that has gone to predominantly White land-grant institutions.

The report finds that, unlike their White land-grant counterparts established in the Morrill Act of 1862 (1862 institutions), Black land-grant universities (1890 institutions) have been overlooked, dealt decades of discrimination, and starved for resources — even after designation as federal land-grant universities in the Second Morrill Act of 1890. While in theory, this Reconstruction Era legislation sought to expand educational opportunities to Black Americans, in practice, it fell short. The law required states to establish a “just and equitable” division of monies between the 1862 and 1890 universities, yet ambiguity in the legislative language created a loophole that would position states to provide greater and inequitable shares of appropriations to White land-grant institutions, while starving Black land-grant institutions. Federal policy aided and abetted discriminatory state funding of the Black land-grant universities, also denying just and equitable federal funding to them, according to the report.

The key finding in the report are:

  • Research expenditures per full-time equivalent student are nearly three times greater at the 1862 institutions than at the 1890 institutions ($10,774 versus $3,388)—a funding disparity due to deeply embedded biases, double standards, and scrutiny that 1890 institutions endure when competing for federal and state research dollars.
  • Endowments per full-time equivalent student are six times greater at the 1862 institutions than at the 1890 institutions ($77,103 versus $12,532). At their inception, the 1890 institutions were denied perpetual funding for the “endowment, maintenance and support” provided to the 1862 institutions, resulting in untenable present-day inequities in endowment resources that support current operations and ensure future longevity.
  • Through litigation and other means, Black land-grant institutions have had to fight the denial of federal and state support since their inception, and that fight continues. In the 2019–20 academic year, the 1862 institutions operated with $2 billion more in total revenues (federal, state, institutional) than the 1890 institutions. As a result, Black land-grant universities operate on shoestring budgets, with fewer resources for research, technology, academic instruction, student support, and community programs.
  • Black land-grant universities were excluded from federal formula payments for research and extension activities for 80 years, while their White land-grant counterparts received routine federal support. Further, federal appropriations for 1890 research and extension have fallen far short of levels promised by Congress — a $436 million shortfall between fiscal years 2008 and 2022.
  • States have failed to equitably support 1890 institutions, while 1862 institutions flourished with state resources. Between fiscal years 2011 and 2022 alone, Black land-grant universities lost nearly $200 million in resources because states declined to provide matching funds while they fully funded their White land-grant universities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to look the other way while states engage in discriminatory and inequitable funding of the 1890 institutions.

The report presents a substantial history of land-grant colleges and offers several recommendations on what needs to be done to rectify the inequalities that have plagued the 1890 universities in the past and persist to this day.

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