HBCUs vs. The State Government: How HBCUs Were Robbed Of Billions (The History & A Breakdown)


The federal designation of HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) was created by the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, giving federal support and protection to higher education institutions created before 1964 that were accredited with the mission of educating African Americans. The support from the federal government has always varied by the President and his administration that leads the Executive Branch of the United States Government. However, it seems as if we’ve never truly seen support from the State Governments that our public HBCUs reside in. State HBCUs have had to fend for themselves, given minimal support from state legislatures and often accusations of mismanagement and fund misappropriation from the same governing body meant to equitably support all institutions that tax-payers help fund.

Theres no better example than the 19 land grant black colleges in our nation today and their fight with the state government for appropriate funding and support. Recently on HBCU Pulse Radio, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Antonio McLaren, Vice President of Innovation & Program Implementation for the 1890 University Foundation. The 1890 University Foundation, established in 2016, was created to support and advocate for all of our Land Grant HBCUs. My conversation with Dr. McLauren was amazing and he shined light on several issues that our land grant institutions are confronted with. 

However, our conversation was confined to the current 28-minute format of our radio program on SiriusXM Channel 142 HBCU. There were several aspects of the history of Land Grant HBCUs that we were not able to touch on due to time constraints. This information must be presented to the world so we can be well-versed in our fight for the sustainability of HBCUs.

So, on today’s HBCU Pulse Radio Editorial, we take a deeper look into the creation of Land Grant Institutions, Land Grant HBCUs and how these HBCUs have been robbed of billions of dollars.

Listen To The “HBCUs vs. The State Government” episode on SiriusXM Channel 142 HBCU Friday 2/24 @ 5 PM EST, Sunday 2/26 @ 2:30 PM EST & Tuesday 2/28 @ 6 PM EST. You can also check out the full episode below and on Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio and wherever you get your podcasts. 


A Brief History Of Land Grant Colleges

The Land Grant College System was created in 1862 by the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act. The Morrill Land Grant granted states with land that could be used for profit with the funds being used to establish a college in the state that would teach agriculture & mechanical arts. The first land grant colleges were segregated. In 1889, these land grant colleges sought federal funding but were tasked with integrating. The heads of these institutions as well as state government leaders did not want to integrate their institutions, so they elected to create specific agriculture and mechanical colleges for black people. The colleges that were created paled in comparison to their white counterparts.


This led to the passage of the Second Morrill Act Of 1890, signed into law by the 23rd President of the United States Benjamin Harrison and sponsored by Vermont Senator Justin Morrill. The said goal was to expand educational opportunities in the field of agriculture and mechanical arts. State governments were mandated to give equal financial appropriations to these land grant black colleges as they did predominately white land grant colleges. However, it was up to the discretion of the state government to determine what “just and equal” funding appropriation was.

This caused a problem as predominately white land grant institutions were given more state support than land grant HBCUs. A perfect example is Tennessee State University. Tennessee State was underfunded millions of dollars while the University of Tennessee, the only other land-grant institution in the state, was funded appropriately. An investigation into this by the State’s Office of Legislative Budget Analysis in 2021 showed that Tennessee State had been underfunded for decades and that the institution is owed between $151 million to $544 million in land-grant funding.

Tennessee State isn’t the only HBCU that has endured this. in February 2022, Forbes published their article “How America Cheated Its Black Colleges”. The article, often cited by HBCU alumni as we attempt to showcase how HBCUs have been underfunded for decades, features a table that shows how much money our HBCU land grant institutions have been underfunded by. The table lists the amount of money underfunded from 1987 to 2022 and totals $12 Billion.

The Problem Land Grant HBCUs Are Faced With 

Public HBCUs are largely funded by state and local government appropriations, with tuition payment, alumni giving and endowments. State government appropriations are important to the sustainability of these public HBCUs. Without equitable money allocation, HBCUs are left to do more with less. Often times, the lack of resources for housing and capital improvements is held against HBCUs and use to paint black institutions as unprepared to properly support students. This philosophy then supports the state’s attempt to take over these institutions, citing financial and operations mismanagement.
Recently, Tennessee State University has been the target of an alleged takeover by the Tennessee State Government. It has been recommended that Tennessee State’s current Board Of Trustees be dissolved to allow the Tennessee Board Of Regents to control oversight of the university. Tennessee State University, via the Office of Communications, responded to the move.

State takeovers of HBCUs have been attempted for years. Many have been targeted specifically at our 1890 Land Grant institutions.
  • In 2019, the Georgia State Senate pushed to merge Fort Valley State University, Albany State University and Savannah State University to form the Georgia A&M University system. The move would’ve created a Georgia A&M University system that would be directly under the control of the state government instead of the University System Of Georgia (Fort Valley State, Albany State & Savannah State are the only three public HBCUs in the system, FVSU is the 1890 Land Grant in the state).
  • In 2009, then Governor Haley Barbour proposed to merge Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State. Barbour attempted to use a $700 million budget shortfall Alcorn is a 1890 Land Grant institution.
  • As we detailed in July, Florida Governor Ron DesSantis is fighting for more control over the state colleges and universities in Florida. FAMU, a part of the State University system and the only public HBCU in the state (also an 1890 Land Grant), finds itself vulnerable to political action based on DesSantis’s “Stop W.O.K.E” act and a decades long talks to merge FAMU with neighboring public institution Florida State University. An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1967.

As HBCU Land Grant institutions continue to uplift our students as well as the community they reside in, we will continue to fight for their sustainability and viability. We will also continue our coverage of the fight via HBCU Pulse Radio.

Make sure to tune in next week for the HBCU State Of The Union and a deep dive into the accomplishments of Kamala Harris as the Vice President Of The United States.



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