HBCU's Are Underfunded All Across The Country

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HBCU's are underfunded all across the country

HBCU's are underfunded all across the country. Born in a time where Blacks were viewed as less than human, black education investing has always been a second priority to white educational institutions.

Despite efforts to counter a historical legacy of inequitable funding and investments by federal and state governments, resource inequities continue to plague historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to findings released by ACE in an issue brief, Public and Private Investments and Divestments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCUs are critical access points to postsecondary education and serve an important function in promoting educational attainment, particularly for many black students. In addition, these institutions serve a significant proportion of first-generation students and those who require financial assistance to afford college—a growing segment of the college-going demographic within the United States.

HBCUs play a pivotal role in American society, representing about 3 percent of two-year and four-year public and private nonprofit institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs, but award 17 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black students. Over the last 20 years, HBCUs have also played a major role in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. Other key findings include:​ Public HBCUs rely on federal, state, and local funding more heavily than their non-HBCU counterparts (54 percent of overall revenue vs. 38 percent).

Private HBCUs are also more tuition-dependent than their non-HBCU counterparts (45 percent tuition-dependent compared with 37 percent tuition-dependent). Private gifts, grants, and contracts make up a smaller percentage of overall revenue for private HBCUs relative to their non-HBCU counterparts (17 percent vs. 25 percent). Both public and private HBCUs experienced the steepest declines in federal funding per full-time equivalent student between 2003 and 2015, with private HBCUs seeing a 42 percent reduction—the most substantial of all sectors. Within both public and private sectors, HBCU endowments lag behind those of non-HBCUs by at least 70 percent.

The authors say these gaps jeopardize an HBCU’s ability to buffer ongoing decreases in state and federal funding. This issue brief was authored by Krystal L. Williams, assistant professor of higher education at the University of Alabama and senior research fellow at the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at the United Negro College Fund. It was co-authored by BreAnna L. Davis, a senior evaluation associate at School Readiness Consulting and a former graduate student research fellow at the United Negro College Fund.

Historically black colleges and universities have been underfunded for decades, and resources are stretched even thinner at historically Black community colleges. “A lot of these small colleges, they're small and mighty, but they are lacking the resources of big flagship universities,” former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said. “They don't have government relations folks constantly lobbying for funding.” Qarni now serves as the managing director for external affairs at The Hope Center, and his team there is working to help HBCUs better address their needs.

The Hope Center launched its #RealCollegeHBCU coalition Thursday, which will address declining STEM enrollment and bolster the schools’ abilities to advocate for themselves on state and federal levels. Ten HBCUs joined the initiative, including four in Alabama: Trenholm State Community College in Montgomery, Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Lawson State Community College in Birmingham and Drake State in Huntsville. Over the next six months, each HBCU will receive training and resources from

The Hope Center and its partner The Center for the Study of HBCUs to build up student affairs capacity. “The vast majority of students have these real needs and real costs that haven't been really fully realized by institutions and policymakers,” Qarni said. “The old kind of thinking with college is that you only have to think about tuition, but you have to look at all of the expenses, all of the real costs that a college student goes through.”

The Hope Center surveyed 5,000 HBCU students in the fall of 2020, and two-thirds of them reported having experienced basic needs insecurity. That could include lack of access to nutritious food, adequate housing, transportation, or child care. Qarni said schools need to be better equipped to help their students who face these issues. “We are really encouraging states to look at their financial aid programs and emergency programs to make sure that the formula of where the funding is being applied is fair, that it's equitable and really keeps HBCUs in mind,” he said.

Encouraging schools to develop solutions through policy agendas is another aspect of support that the coalition will provide. “We are taking a stance against inequity and building institutional capacity at HBCUs. Right now is the right time to do this good work,” Center for the Study of HBCUs director Terrell Strayhorn said. The initiative will be led by Ashley Gray, senior learning specialist at The Hope Center, and it will operate with funding from ECMC Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


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