This week, The Hunt Institute published two briefs on the strategies implemented by the states of Maryland and Tennessee to address the underfunding of public and private HBCUs in their states. The briefs, parts of a three-part series published in conjunction with the Lumina Foundation, explored the states’ contrasting yet similarly successful approaches to offsetting the disparity in resources. While Tennessee successfully garnered bipartisan support to allocate increased funds to HBCUs, Maryland saw an increase in state funding only after significant public advocacy and lawsuits levied against the state.
The first brief in the series, published in October, explored the historic underpinnings of this funding inequality, noting that the dearth in resources allocated to land-grant HBCUs since their founding has led to “HBCUs missing out on $12.8 billion in funding across the country” within the last few decades. Despite federal laws dictating that state funding for land-grant HBCUs be a dollar-for-dollar match with funding given to other land-grant institutions, the report found that Delaware and Ohio were the only states to allocate equal resources to HBCUs. The brief ended with a call for the federal government to hold states accountable for the fair allocation of resources.
The briefs released this week expand on the first installation by examining the methods by which funding increases have been achieved, in the hopes that “these case-studies and the set of briefs provide a blueprint for how elected officials in other states can form bipartisan coalitions to support HBCUs and ensure they are equitably funded.” Despite the sometimes acrimonious clashes between HBCU advocates and state legislators, the legal battles brought about $577 million dollars in additional funding to Maryland’s HBCUs in 2021. Meanwhile, bipartisan cooperation led to legislation granting Tennessee State University an additional $318 million dollars for infrastructure and strategic initiatives. Prior to these budget changes, the state owed the university up to $544 million dollars due to years of shortchanging their budget.
The reports conclude by noting that the fight for equal funding is a long one, as both Tennessee and Maryland have experienced decades of advocacy leading to these budget changes. However, they make clear that long-term planning and a vision for the future was key to the states’ success. The final brief concludes by stating: “Between capital improvements, strategic initiatives, and investments such as the new engineering building, Tennessee is charting a way to not only remedy underfunding, but ensuring that their HBCUs can continue to be economic drivers and successful institutions of higher education for generations to come.” As other states seek to remediate budget disparities between land-grant institutions, a similar eye toward the future of higher education and an understanding of the importance of equity and diversity within the halls of universities will be a critical component of ongoing reforms.