Separate and Unequal: Funding of Public HBCUs

Unequal funding, programming work to disenfranchise black colleges and universities

black and latino students in colleges

Image: File

During a recent panel at the White House, first lady Michelle Obama said, “Education is the single most important civil rights issue that we face today.”

Nowhere is this statement more evident than in the persistently unequal funding of the nation’s public historically black colleges and universities.

Recent lawsuits in South Carolina and Maryland on behalf of the states’ public HBCUs contend that South Carolina State University and Morgan State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Coppin State University, and Bowie State University in Maryland have historically received less funding and inequitable program offerings compared with the states’ predominantly white institutions.

[Related: HBCU Students Sue Tennessee Over Voter ID Laws]

But the cases in Maryland and South Carolina are neither new nor unique. Before South Carolina or Maryland, there was a similar lawsuit in Mississippi that resulted in a $500 million settlement for the state’s HBCUs.

In 1970, the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund supported Adams v. Richardson, a lawsuit brought against the Department of Health, Education and Welfare charging that 10 states — Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — were failing to eliminate the vestiges of segregated school systems. The suit was brought on behalf of 31 students against Elliott L. Richardson, individually and as then-secretary of the department.

In the end, those states were ordered to immediately remedy the dual systems of segregation, with the explicit notation that black colleges not be harmed by the desegregation mandate in these states.

Court documents from the 1973 appeal of the case acknowledge the need for “a viable, coordinated state-wide higher education policy that takes into account the special problems of minority students and of black colleges.… Black institutions currently fulfill a crucial need and will continue to play an important role in black higher education.”

Read more at Diverse Issues in Higher Education

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