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Study: Public HBCUs Are Not Funded Equitably Compared to Traditionally White Institutions

Public historically Black institutions are usually on the losing end when government dollars and permission to create graduate programs are being handed down, according to the new study, “Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities.”

During more than a year of compiling data, Dr. James T. Minor, an assistant professor of higher education at Michigan State University, studied funding, enrollment trends as well as placement for advanced degree programs at public HBCUs and TWIs, finding gaps in all. Larger schools traditionally receive more funding from state and federal resources, but, Minor says, when considering the amount a school gets per student, HBCUs fall well below TWIs.

“I hope that this provides an opportunity for HBCU leaders to collectively mobilize and petition state governments and federal governments to more appropriately fund and support all public colleges and universities, not just a select few,” Minor says.

North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., for instance, received $15,700 in funding per student in 2006. An hour away, at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, the school received $7,800 per student — just under half the amount for NCSU students. In North Carolina, HBCUs make up about one-third of the state’s higher education system, but offer 11 percent of the graduate programs.

“I will be the first to agree that it’s reasonable to expect that institutions (that) have a larger number of students and faculty get more money in terms of scale,” he says. “The appropriations wouldn’t be the same, but I would expect institutions to be funded more equitably.”

HBCUs, which make up about 3 percent of the nation’s postsecondary institutions, produce about 25 percent of the nation’s Black graduates, according to Minorities in Higher Education’s annual status report released in 2006.

Desegregation policies implemented over the last 30 years have made it easier for Blacks to choose TWIs over HBCUs when seeking postsecondary education. HBCUs are generally more affordable, except in Mississippi, the study states, where the cost of going to an HBCU and a TWI are nearly the same, further allowing a prospective student to pass on an HBCU.

In Alabama and North Carolina, no specific funding formulas exist for appropriating money to state institutions. The formula for funding in Louisiana looks at, among other things, enrollment and the number of advanced degrees offered. In Mississippi, the board of trustees looks at things including variations in program costs and how much supplemental funding will be given to a school with enrollment under 5,000.

Some HBCUs are also getting extra money through budgetary items designed to assist with future advancement. Programs such as the “Focused Growth” initiative in North Carolina are carved out to help advance HBCUs so that parity won’t be so far off. However, some states, like Alabama and Mississippi, were forced through legal means to set aside funds specifically for HBCUs that were meant to address historical discrimination.

“The structure of most desegregation settlements in higher education are finite, meaning once payments have been made or certain benchmarks are met, the funding is concluded,” the study states.

Program offerings, designed to attract students and keep tuition flowing, also became an issue after steps were taken toward desegregation. With all institutions supposedly operating on a level platform, state officials try to spread out programs to prevent duplication. In 2000, Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, was given permission to reopen the law school it closed in 1968. But there was a catch: Because Florida State University had one in the city, FAMU would have to find another locale. The law school was finally built in Orlando, nearly 300 miles from FAMU’s main campus.

The study concludes the disparities in funding and curricula mean that HBCUs are slowly being pushed out of the picture in terms of their ability to provide

“This is really about public policy,” Minor says about his study, “and whether the current system of funding public higher education and the current management of higher education systems best serve the citizens and afford the opportunities to grow our local and national economies.”

–Marlon A. Walker

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