If the Trump Administration is looking for a bipartisan cause to open lines of compromise with a soon-to-be Democratic House of Representatives, then a good place to start would be addressing the discriminatory practices of states refusing to fund historically black land-grant colleges and universities.
Little is known about the long-standing refusal of states’ to equitably fund the 19 HBCUs throughout the east and the southeastern United States operating under the Morrill Act of 1890, which grants federal funds to colleges created for African Americans with emphasis on agricultural research, education, and training.
For decades, federal law required that funds given to HBCUs by the US Department of Agriculture were matched with non-federal dollars. Funds not raised by the schools or matched with state appropriations were to be returned to the federal agency.
Over the last eight years, the lack of support from states has cost the land grant HBCUs. In 2013, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities reported losses of more than $57 million in unmatched federal money between 2010 and 2012. One year later, the Obama Administration passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed HBCUs to apply for a waiver of the matching clause to receive the much-needed funds without penalty.
But the National Education Association’s Center for Great Public Schools reported last year that funding inequities continued for HBCUs in the form of waiver denials, federal budget cuts and states continuing to withhold matching dollars.
In 2017, about $50 million was earmarked for appropriations from federal funds under the Evans-Allen Act, and as such, HBCUs needed $50 million to be matched by non-federal sources. However, nine of the 19 1890 HBCUs filed waivers in 2017, indicating that they were unable to secure a full funding match. These nine institutions were able to raise between 52 and 87 percent of their required non-federal match. Combined, they lost nearly $10 million in funds due to the matching fund shortage. Kentucky State University lost the largest percent of its land-grant appropriation at 52 percent (more than $1.7 million while Prairie View A&M University in Texas lost the most money at $1.95 million.
Six of the 19 institutions also applied for a waiver in 2016, showing that for some HBCUs, falling short on matching funds is not a rare occurrence. Similarly, a study by Association of Public Land-Grant Universities found that between 2010 and 2012, 61 percent of the 18 HBCUs studied had not received a full match, resulting in a total loss of $57 million to these institutions. In contrast, during this period states either met or exceeded the matching fund requirements for their non-HBCU land-grant universities.
The Trump Administration has not been shy about sharing its goal of outclassing the Obama Administration in support for HBCUs. To the chagrin of many in the HBCU community, the nation’s head bull in a china shop has done an effective job of funding black colleges and pulling several HBCUs out of quicksand pits of loan debt.
But Trump advocates in the U.S. Department of Education must make land-grant funding inequity a top priority, particularly if they hope to stem whatever version of the blue wave is like to rise in the lead up to 2020. While most states are matching predominantly white land-grant colleges nearly three-to-one for every dollar coming from the federal government, those same states refusing to support historically black land-grant colleges are refusing to help black farmers to build wealth, acquire land, create jobs and produce tax revenues for their cities and states.
That’s something most legislators in Appalachia and southern states may be happily willing to concede. But quietly, there is an increasing number of white farmers and agribusiness owners seeking support from HBCUs in states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana; particularly as marijuana and hemp research speeds towards its emergence as one of the nation’s booming industries.
Much in the way that the Trump administration was willing to provide relief for farmers negatively impacted by tariffs, the USDA and US Department of Ed should consider land-grant HBCUs as an extension of that same exemption program. Millions going to help a diverse group of agribusiness men and women in America’s great rural cities and towns who are looking to HBCUs as a proximate and affordable partner for their entrepreneurial goals is a good thing for reversing generational poverty and for political optics.
We all know the answer is not additional money for HBCUs. But maybe the solution is lower funding percentages for predominantly white land-grant schools in states which do not proportionately match funding for HBCUs.
HBCU outreach has been a White House highlight for the last two years, but to truly make Trump’s presidential legacy historic in black communities, the unfair and long-standing discrimination against HBCUs in America’s heartland must end on his watch.