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Report: HBCU and Tribal Land-Grant Universities Significantly Underfunded

Land-grant universities (LGUs) that are historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are significantly underfunded compared to predominantly white LGUs, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress (CAP).Dr. Sara PartridgeDr. Sara Partridge

LGUs categorized as 1890 and 1994 institutions – those recognized as HBCUs and TCUs – serve students from predominantly low- and low-middle-income backgrounds but are given far less resources, the report stated.

In 2020-2021, the average endowment assets per student at 1862 institutions – LGUs established by the first Morrill Act of 1862 that serve predominantly white students – was $105,500. In contrast, the average was $13,000 at 1890 institutions and $22,710 at 1994 institutions, according to the report.

"It's important to support the research and extension programs at HBCUs and tribal land-grant institutions,” said Dr. Sara Partridge, CAP senior policy analyst and author of the report. "[These institutions] support small farmers, increase college attainment for underrepresented groups, strengthen the food system, and protect natural resources."

One of the reasons for such resource disparities are structural inequalities in the farm bill, the five-year legislative package funding research and extension programs at LGUs, the report noted. The CAP report comes at a time when the bill is up for reauthorization.

A unique issue that 1890 institutions face is missing out on state funds. Under the farm bill, research and extension grant programs for 1862 and 1890 schools require one-to-one matching funds equal to federal allocation to get full federal funding. This match often comes from state appropriations.

However, programs for 1890s allow up to 50% of this state matching requirement to be waived, a practice that many of these schools have had to employ to maintain full funding from the federal level. From 2018 to 2022, six to nine of the 19 1890 institutions requested such waivers each year, according to the report. The waived state matching funds totaled more than $90 million over the past five years, indicating that was the amount of money the historically Black LGUs were missing out from the state.

Meanwhile, 1862 institutions in the same states received state appropriations significantly more than was necessary for the matching requirement, the report noted. The state of Alabama requested a waiver for approximately $828,000 in state funds for Tuskegee University in 2022, the same year that it gave more than $36 million to Auburn University, its predominantly white flagship school – a seven-to-one ratio for Auburn’s federal allocation for research capacity funding.

Alabama wasn’t alone in far exceeding required matching amounts for their predominantly white LGUs in 2022. Texas A&M University had a state-to-federal funding ratio of 4.8-to-1, $89 million more than was required; University of Arkansas 3.5-to-1, and University of Florida a staggering 14-to-1, according to the report.

"I think this data shows that it's a reflection of intentional choices about which programs to grow and invest in, even though they are equivalent programs and the 1890s, when they were founded by the Second Morrill Act, were meant to have a 'just and equitable' distribution of resources,” said Partridge. “I think they reflect choices about where to invest and which communities to support."

This year’s coming renewal of the farm bill presents the right time to address this issue, she said. In her report, Partridge suggested state matching waiver requests be submitted jointly between 1862 and 1890 institutions and that waived funding amounts be distributed proportionally between the two.

And as it stands now, the 35 1994 institutions don’t have access to the same level of federal grants as 1862s and 1890s. They do not receive dedicated, formula-based funding for research or extension programs, only competitive grant programs, which lack the same sense of reliability and sustainability, Partridge wrote.

She suggested in the report that the federal government make the research and extension grant programs for TCUs formula-funded capacity grant programs guaranteed to all 1994s, adding that 75% of remaining tribal land is agricultural or forested. 

“TCUs are well-positioned to do this research. And indigenous groups have been stewards of the land for millennia," she said. "They have specialized knowledge of its resources. Creating and funding these programs is a part of maximizing the potential of the land-grant system."

The report called for the upcoming farm bill to continue investing in research and infrastructure at 1890 and 1994 institutions, given issues of facilities maintenance.

Dr. Mortimer Neufville, president of the 1890 Universities Foundation, said that facilities improvement and support for research and extension programs was critical.

"There are some difficulties in terms of precisely how we address issues around matching. And that's still being debated,” Neufville said.

For 1994 institutions in particular, a core issue is broadband access, said Dr. John Phillips, land-grant director for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), adding that, "in Indian country, the digital divide is still alive and well."

"With expanded connectivity through COVID-19 relief funding, the costs of operating and maintaining a broadband infrastructure in rural America have increased significantly, to unsustainable levels," Phillips said in an email. "Some TCUs currently pay 70 times the national average (or more) for broadband connectivity. Others are limping along with slower access. IT or cyberinfrastructure needs in Indian Country needs to be addressed in a sustainable manner."

Arrman Kyaw can be reached at [email protected]

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