Happy Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week, y’all! This is a time for us to focus on the importance of HBCUs and highlight just how underfunded they are.
But first, some history: HBCUs are higher education institutions that were established prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and aimed to serve the Black community. At the time, most universities were totally segregated and even those that had Black students imposed strict racial quotas.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act integrated all schools, including colleges and universities. Many Black students at schools like Shaw University and Lincoln University transferred to larger institutions where they were greeted coldly by the student body. A year later, the Higher Education Act of 1965 created federal grant programs for HBCUs based on student population and graduation rate. The bill even accounted for job placement in fields in which Black workers were historically underrepresented.
Then, in 1980, President Carter signed an executive order that provided funding to strengthen HBCUs and nine years later, President Bush created a presidential advisory board to represent HBCU interests. In 2015, Representatives Alma S. Adams and Bradley Byrne created the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus to advocate for these institutions on the federal level. The caucus quickly grew to include 94 elected officials as of September 2019.
That’s the feel-good history of HBCUs anyways.
Don’t get us wrong; There’s a lot of reasons to feel good about HBCUs. These 101 colleges across the country boast some impressive alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., Vice President Kamala Harris, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Other successes range from academic excellence to athletic prowess.
Just imagine what HBCUs could do if they were properly funded.
Public HBCUs depend on government funding. Federal, state, and local subsidies make up 54% of their funding compared to 38% for non-HBCU institutions. Even private HBCUs are about 8% more tuition-dependent than private non-HBCUs. HBCUs don’t have the same donor base and public support as larger, more recognizable institutions. And yet, HBCUs are the victims of the biggest declines in federal funding since 2003.
The Biden Administration has recently invested in HBCU at a historic rate (thanks, VP Harris). But, there’s still work to be done.
One thing we can do is lobby those in power to give HBCUs low-interest loans for new projects. Data shows that HBCUs have paid vastly more interest than non-HBCUs in construction and campus improvement projects. Canceling college debt for alumni that pledge to donate to HBCUs could be a useful tactic to generate a groundswell of support, too. Investing in HBCUs will pay dividends later.
The importance of HBCUs cannot be overstated, either. Not only do they produce almost a fifth of all Black graduates every year, but they help typically underserved groups. Nearly 60% of HBCU students are first-generation college students, far surpassing other state and private universities. HBCUs also enroll more students reliant on financial support too. Such institutions are central to the professional goals and dreams of so many and we should fund them accordingly.
This HBCU week, let’s recognize how far these schools have come. Let’s also admit that there’s a long way to go until HBCUs are the palaces of higher education that they deserve to be.