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Tennessee could owe a historically black university more than half a billion dollars after it suspended funding for decades.
A bipartisan legislative committee determined last month that the state had failed to adequately fund Tennessee State University in equivalent land grants dating back to the 1950s, costing the public university between $ 150 and $ 544 million. of dollars.
When the school was founded, the federal government designated it as a land granting institution, as it did with the University of Tennessee. As part of the program, the state of Tennessee was to match the federal money sent to schools each year.
“In TSU’s case, the state has failed to match funds dollar for dollar for decades,” a press release from the legislative committee said.
The state of Tennessee isn’t the only historically black college or university to lack public funds. Maryland recently finalized a $ 577 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit alleging the state underfunded its four HBCUs.
Andre Perry, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution who wrote about Maryland’s battle against inequalities in public higher education, blames institutional racism for what he believes is a widespread lack of funding in HBCUs.
“We have to assume it’s race, because a lot of other institutions – mostly white institutions – get their full funding,” he told NPR.
Calling TSU’s recent discoveries “theft on an unprecedented scale,” Perry said funding should be reviewed across the United States, at every HBCU.
“That’s what fuels the economy: a highly skilled workforce. So if we deny black students, black institutions [state funding], we are strangling the economy, ”he said.
Perry spoke to NPR All things Considered on how Brown vs. School Board has played a role in funding the HBCU, the way black students are denied specialized program opportunities, and the myth of reluctant former donors as the root cause of the lack of funding for schools. Listen in the audio player above and read on for interview highlights.
On how segregation laws have created funding disparities in higher education
Well, since the fifties, since Brown v Council, the federal government ordered the states to desegregate their schools. And most people think it happened in the K-12 arena, but it also happened for higher education institutions. And by the way, most HBCUs are found in the Southern States. And so there was just a reluctance to desegregate higher education on the basis of funding, and so many of these states created funding formulas that regularly only shortened HBCUs.
On the academic consequences of underfunded HBCUs
Well, when a university does not have the funds, it is not able to produce the kinds of expensive programs that might be requested. And so I’ll just give an example: engineering. Running an engineering school costs a lot of money. And so if you miss, guess what? You won’t have an engineering program, or it will be academic in nature and you won’t have the equipment, you won’t have the facilities for people to get the most out of this degree. Moreover, you cannot innovate.
But what you see in HBCUs isn’t just that they aren’t able to innovate or add certain degree programs. Their facilities are deteriorating. They are not able to keep up with the competition. And so, it just leads to lower standards, and eventually the students won’t want to go.
On the argument that the lack of alumni donations is responsible for the financial problems of HBCUs
When people say it’s a problem of people giving … what they’re really saying is we’re going to blame black people for the lack of funding in black institutions, abdicating responsibility for the state to do. That’s all it says. We must denounce this lack of funding as a real theft on an unprecedented scale.
That’s why it’s just horrible, these findings. And we should go further. We should do an investigation in every state, for every HBCU, and we should assume that they are stolen.
Jason Fuller and Sarah Handel produced and edited the audio story. Emma Bowman adapted it for the web.