Noted journalist, author, and Alabama A&M University alumnus posits a question in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education from his new book, The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal — And How to Set Them Right.
The question is if predominantly white institutions owe financial recompense to HBCUs for the generations of inequality and the consequences associated with the same. The anecdote backing the premise is the saga of Bennett College, which rallied and fell short of saving its accreditation in 2019 with a national fundraising campaign, while PWIs stood up by generational wealth and political favor were at the outset of reconciling those benefits within the context of slavery and Jim Crow policies which supported their growth.
There were more than a dozen donations to universities of at least $5 million in the first month of 2019. None of those donations went to Bennett College, or to any other historically Black college, for that matter. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, as the nation grappled with the ways structural racism affects various facets of American society, several historically Black colleges received their largest-ever donations from the billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and others. But a one-time injection of funding will not make up for more than a century of discrimination. And wealth begets wealth; while some predominantly white institutions were able to build their reserves, Black colleges were held back.
Private money alone won’t save Black colleges, but, perhaps, money from predominantly white institutions can — and it might be those colleges’ responsibility to provide that aid.
It is a sublime comparison to show how institutions built to educate Black folks paled and suffered against institutions designed to achieve the opposite. The call for wealth distribution among institutions of varying mission and opportunities is a long shot; about as low probability as rules that would call for the descendants of slave owners to provide reparations to descendants of slaves.
But the topic does invite a different kind of conversation; what is the obligation of systems that promoted this inequality? While institutions may not themselves be on the hook for restorative funding to HBCUs, should state and federal governments bear that responsibility?
Eliminating PWI-HBCU Program Duplication
Lawmakers in Maryland nearly unanimously voted to settle a long-standing federal lawsuit between HBCU graduates and the state’s system of higher education for criminally creating duplicate programs among the state’s four historically Black institutions and their white counterparts. The total cost to Maryland? More than $2 billion in cash, construction, and program development.
Correcting PWI-HBCU Land Grant Funding Disparities
Generations of states withholding matching funds for federal land-grant funding to HBCUs has allowed land-grant PWIs to grow exponentially in cooperative extension, agribusiness start-up support, and public-private farming partnerships. Now, HBCUs are seeking out ways to resolve the generational inequities.
Solving the HBCU Deferred Maintenance Crisis
Nothing limits student recruitment, private donations, and campus goodwill like dilapidated facilities. Too many public HBCUs suffer from billions in deferred maintenance and decades of unaddressed facility upgrade needs, which are translating into crises at HBCUs nationwide.
Geographical Mission Creep
Imagine if all HBCUs had direct, state-supported competition for students and resources right outside of their doors. That place is Georgia.
PWIs don’t owe HBCUs anything, but the states that used them to dismantle HBCUs over generations owe a whole lot.