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It’s time to compensate 1890 universities for decades of unfair funding

August 03, 2023

In 1862, during the Civil War, Congress passed the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act of 1862 (a.k.a. the Morrill Act of 1862). This legislation extended educational opportunities for many White working-class Americans. But it did little to extend education to Black people. The Morrill Act of 1890 passed 28 years later created new land grant institutions to address the issue of Black peoples’ access to higher education. But racial inequities between the two land-grant systems have persisted into the present day. And as noted in The Century Foundation’s (TCF’s) paper, “Nourishing the Nation While Starving; The Underfunding of Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities,” even though the 1890 universities have many proud accomplishments, the cumulative damage from unequal treatment between the 1862 and 1890 universities is significant.

The inequitable treatment of the 1862 vs. the 1890 universities originated in the language in both Morrill Acts. The first Morrill Act funded the nationwide system of universities by granting federal lands to each of the states. The states could either cash in on the value of the property or hold on to the land as an investment for sale in the future. But the second Morrill Act did not give any land to the 1890 universities, thus depriving them of a significant source of ongoing income. Today, as TCF reports, “endowments per full-time student are six times greater at the 1862 institutions than at the 1890 institutions.” That adds up to a whopping $77,103 per student at the 1862 universities, compared to only $12,532 per student at the 1890s.

Furthermore, the federal government has excluded the 1890s from federal formula payments for research and extension activities for the past eighty years. Nonetheless, 1890 universities engage in significant research that advances students in STEM careers. Yet, students at these universities must do their learning in classrooms and laboratories the federal government funds at a level far below what they extend to the 1862 universities. Research expenditures per full-time student are three times greater at the 1862 institutions than at the 1890 institutions, according to TCF researchers. That amounts to $10,774 per student at the 1862s versus $3,388 per student at the 1890s.

The 1890s also deliver cooperative extension work with less money from the federal government. The TCF researchers report that “federal appropriations for 1890 research and extension have fallen far short of levels promised by Congress—a $436 million shortfall between fiscal years 2008 and 2022.”

1890 universities face an uphill funding battle not only on the federal side, but also on the state side. All states must fund their land-grant institutions, but many are more generous to 1862 universities than 1890s. The current Farm Bill requires states to match at least 50% of the federal funds going to the 1890s. Often, if they were to give the 1890s a comparable proportion as they give to their 1862s, that would amount to much more than 50%. But TCF reports that, “[b]etween fiscal years 2011 and 2022 alone, Black land-grant universities lost nearly $200 million in resources because states declined to provide matching funds while they fully funded their white land-grant universities.”

Federal funding for the land-grant universities comes through the Farm Bill. This legislation, due for reauthorization at the end of September 2023, could ameliorate some land-grant-funding inequality. It also could compel the USDA to track states to ensure they do not discriminate against 1890 institutions.

TCF recommends that the Farm Bill:

  • Provide $600 million in new mandatory equity funding for 1890 institutions.
  • Incentivize states to end funding inequities by phasing out the waiver for one-to-one state matching of federal research and extension formula funds to 1890 institutions. “Policymakers should increase the minimum percentage of 1890 research and extension funds that states must provide from 50% to 80% in fiscal year 2024, 90% in fiscal year 2025, reaching 100 percent in fiscal year 2026.”
  • Double the minimum funding percentages for appropriations for 1890 research and extension programs. They propose raising these appropriations 30% to 60% of annual 1862 research appropriations, and from 20% to 40% for 1890 extension.
  • Provide $100 million to expand student scholarships at 1890 institutions.
  • Increase other federal resources for 1890 institutions. These resources could include 1890 Research Facilities and 1890 Centers of Excellence administered by the USDA.
  • Strengthen USDA reporting to Congress on federal funding, state matching funding and state waivers granted for 1890education, research, and extension programs. Although the Farm Bill required USDA to report on allocations made to, and matching funds received by, 1890 and 1862 institutions, the USDA has not made this information readily available to Congress, the 1890 institutions, and the public.

The Century Foundation’s report can be found here: https://tcf.org/content/report/nourishing-the-nation-while-starving-the-....

usda, landgrant, 1890, 1862, funding, research, extension, Morrill