The secretaries of education and agriculture sent letters to governors in 16 states, urging them to invest in their states' historically Black universities and colleges and make up for years of inequitable funding of so-called "land grant" state schools.
Each letter outlines how much the majority of America’s land-grant HBCUs have been short changed by more than $12 billion.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, officials found Tennessee State University in Nashville missed out on the most funding, underfunded by at least $2.1 billion compared to other HBCUs.
This comes after a 2021 report by the Tennessee Office of Legislative budget analysis found TSU had been underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Jermilton Woods, a 2018 graduate and former student president at TSU, says he can remember the challenges he and his peers faced with the school’s limited resources.
"It's heartbreaking. You know, $500 million was heartbreaking. But, you know, $2.1 billion is what's owed. It's heartbreaking, but it's also alarming," said Woods. "There were certain things we just couldn't do."
Despite the challenges, Woods says he wouldn’t trade his education at TSU.
"I got a great education and so many of my peers got a great education. The way that we lived on campus, the way that campus looked, that would have changed,"said Woods.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor said "Governor (Bill) Lee remains committed to working with legislative partners and community leaders to support the success of TSU and HBCUs across Tennessee," adding that TSU has received nearly $300 million in direct appropriations from the state.
It’s no secret HBCUs have long been grossly underfunded. Marybeth Gasman, a professor at Rutgers University who has done extensive research on HBCUs, says additional funding would be a game changer for these schools.
"The reason why HBCU schools are continuing to fight for equity is because we live in a country that has a history of systemic racism, and many of our programs continue to be, you know, to be racist in undertone," said Gasman. "HBCUs have been starved in many ways, but have still survived and have thrived as well. Look what they're going to do when they actually get equitable funding."
Gasman says much-needed funding would help HBCUs hire more faculty, pay faculty more, help fund more programs and offer more scholarships to students in need.
A 2023 report from Goldman Sachs research looked at how HBCUs have played a prominent role in promoting education and equality for Black Americans despite the big gap in financial resources.
HBCUs make up less than 3% of colleges in the U.S. but are responsible for 13% of bachelor’s degrees and 23% of STEM degrees obtained by Blacks in America.
"I always point out to people, if you didn't have HBCU, you'd have almost no Black teachers. You'd have almost no Black scientists. Those two areas in particular, in addition to medicine and law, without HBCUs, you really, really run into much lower numbers. And what that tells you is that majority institutions are not doing their part to educate African Americans. They're dropping the ball," said Gasman.
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