The Biden administration sent letters earlier this month to 16 governors — including Florida’s Ron DeSantis — urging their states to review a massive $12 billion in funding disparities among land-grant universities.
The letter alleges that the states disproportionately underfunded Florida A&M University nearly $2 billion compared to University of Florida, which is the second largest funding disparity among all land-grant universities.
In the letter U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack addressed the major underinvestment.
“Unacceptable funding inequities have forced many of our nation’s distinguished historically Black colleges and universities to operate with inadequate resources and delay critical investments in everything from campus infrastructure to research and development to student support services,” Cardona wrote. “To compete in the 21st century we need state leaders to step up and live up to their legally required obligations to our historically Black land-grant institutions.”
The initial Morrill Act of 1862 did not include HBCUs. However, in 1890, the Second Morill Act was established. The act specified that states must ensure race would not be a factor in admission requirements or states must create separate land-grant institutions for Black students, which resulted in the establishment of several HBCUs, including FAMU, Tennessee State University, and South Carolina State University to name a few.
The act solidified funding instead of land for these Black land-grant universities.
In Florida specifically, there are only two land-grant institutions – FAMU and its predominately white counterpart, University of Florida.
According to a 2022 investigation by Forbes, FAMU’s $123 million in state appropriation in 2020 amounted to $13,000 per student compared with UF’s $15,600 per student. On average, FAMU enrolls nearly 10,000 students, while UF’s enrollment is closer to 35,000 students. Therefore, the $2,600 difference equates to nearly $65 million.
Critics believe that the disparity is heavily due to UF having more agricultural research and advanced facilities. However, because UF received the correct allocation of funding, the university is able to improve facilities and launch several research projects.
Kennedy Parks, a fourth-year agricultural business student minoring in public administration, said, “In the United States, Blacks make up 5.3% of the agricultural industry, and that margin is significantly lower for Black women.”
“I feel if we were given the same opportunity as my counterparts at the University of Florida, we would have more experience with hands-on research and secure better job opportunities in the field of agriculture,” Parks added.
With an unrelated lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court on the same issue of underfunding for FAMU compared to other Florida universities, the letter filed by the Biden administration shined light on the allegation of unequal funding for land-grant HBCUs.