Red States push back on Biden admin's HBCU 'equity' letter

The Departments of Education and Agriculture sent letters to the governors of 16 states, demanding that they rectify funding gaps between HBCUs and state universities.

Leaders in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, and Florida all fired back at the Biden administration for pressuring them to increase funding for HBCUs in the name of equity.

Red state leaders are pushing back against pressure from the Biden administration to fund historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the name of equity.

Campus Reform previously reported that the Departments of Education (ED) and Agriculture (USDA) sent letters to the governors of 16 states, demanding that they rectify funding gaps between HBCUs and state universities. The letters said that “[u]nequitable funding” caused funding gaps over the past 30 years and pushed the states to take steps to make those schools “whole.”

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Leaders in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, and Florida all fired back.

“The Governor is proud of the rich tradition at UAPB and will continue to support the Golden Lions,” Sanders’ communications director, Alexa Henning, said in a statement to Campus Reform. “A threatening, politically charged letter from the Biden administration bureaucrats won’t change her commitment to working with our partners in the legislature to continue supplying all students with high quality education and learning opportunities.” 

“We know mass standardized letters make for flashy headlines, but the fact is Missouri’s land-grant HBCU, Lincoln University, and all public higher education institutions have seen generational investments under our administration,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson said in a statement shared with Campus Reform

“Lincoln University alone has received a 63 percent increase in its land grant general revenue appropriation and a 27 percent increase in its core funding since I became Governor,” he continued. “Additionally, nearly $38 million in capital improvement projects, nursing programs, and healthcare plan funding were awarded to Lincoln University on top of the increases to traditional funding streams. We also helped establish the first law enforcement training academy at an HBCU in the nation on Lincoln University’s campus.” 

“We’re putting in the work to do better in Missouri,” Parson added. “With this letter, we wonder if the federal government is focused on the same or just another distraction from their failed policies.“

“Since his first day in office, Governor Youngkin has fulfilled his stated commitment to our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), public and private, recognizing their critical role in our higher education ecosystem,” Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera wrote in a response letter to the two departments shared with Campus Reform.  

Guidera noted that the Youngkin administration provided the highest investment per student at its public HBCU, Virginia State, since 1994. She also noted that Virginia has previously committed to and been recognized by the Education Department for funding HBCUs. Conversely, the data that the ED and USDA sourced from is unreliable, she said, based on state financial data; Virginia has funded Virginia State well above Virginia Tech, the comparable state school, on a per student basis, since 1994.

The State University System of Florida also hit back at the Biden administration. “It seems the federal government’s solution to all problems is additional spending,” Chancellor Raymond Rodrigues wrote. “The federal government annually operates with significant budget deficits and our nation faces an ever-increasing national debt. In contrast… strong fiscal discipline under Governor [Ron] DeSantis has provided the state of Florida with the means to make significant investments in [Florida A&M University] during his administration.”

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Rodrigues noted that funding for Florida A&M increased by 37.6% during DeSantis’s term as governor, and a record amount of funding overall. Florida A&M is reaping the benefits of that investment, he added: since 2020, the university was ranked as the #1 HBCU in the country; in 2023, it broke into the top 100 Public National Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, a quantum leap from the bottom 10% in 2019. Graduation rates also increased 31.5%, and students are graduating with less debt; the number of students who took out loans decreased by 44%, and the average student loan decreased from $8,710 to $6,450.

“Our results speak for themselves,” Rodrigues concluded. “Please contact my office if you want to learn how to apply some of these successful methods championed by Governor DeSantis.”

Maryland Higher Education Commission Acting Secretary Dr. Sanjay Rai also responded to the letter, pointing out his state’s commitment to HBCUs. In a statement to Campus Reform, Rai pointed out that Governor Wes Moore increased HBCU funding 20% since he took office in January 2023. He directed $422 million in funding in his first budget, and has committed $577 million over the next decade.

”The Maryland’s Higher Education Commission, under Moore’s leadership, is charged with ensuring our HBCUs are positioned to thrive, as they are critical to meeting the needs of our students and growing Maryland’s talent base, making Maryland a more equitable and competitive state,” Rai said.