(WGHP) — The Piedmont Triad is home to three storied historically Black colleges and universities, better-known as HBCUs. A look at their history shows these schools have done more with less from the day they were founded. As HBCUs continue being leaders in educating Black students and educating more non-Black students than ever before, there’s a fight playing out right now to make sure they have a bigger piece of the pie than they’ve ever gotten from the state level up to Congress.
“Black education has been stymied whether that was states passing laws that banned enslaved people from learning to read or write to states that were under-funding Black colleges, places Black students had to go because the rest of higher education would not allow them to attend other institutions,” Adam Harris said.
Harris wrote the book “The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal and How to Set Them Right.” He took us back to the day he realized how much disparity there was between his HBCU, Alabama A&M University, and the predominantly white school down the road, University of Alabama-Huntsville.
“There were all of these differences that became readily apparent quickly. Whether that was with their buildings, whether that was the paved roads. They didn’t have potholes, whereas my campus may have had potholes and some deferred maintenance. I went to the library. The library was open three hours longer than ours. On top of that, Huntsville was a city that was roughly 30% Black yet there were very few Black students on campus.”
In a time of record philanthropy flowing to HBCUs, he says even that is unequal.
“Bennett College, for example, when they were doing their $5 million over 50 days campaign, they were able to hit that mark. But one of the things that sort of underscores the inequity is there were a dozen institutions that received single donations of $5 million in that stretch of time,” he said.
“How does the under-funding at our universities affect the community overall. This is for Black persons. This is for brown persons. This is for white persons. This is for working-class persons. This is for middle-class and upper-class persons,” North Carolina A&T Interim Director of External Relations Oliver Thomas said.
Here are just a few things he listed that are funded by federal dollars: Pell Grants, the agriculture program, work-study, and research. He talked to FOX8 about several pieces of legislation moving through Congress right now that could lead to more HBCUs getting more federal dollars, and what that would mean for A&T.
“One of those major pieces would be to address deferred maintenance and infrastructure for us. Our deferred maintenance, at last calculation I read, was at $130 million or better.”
A lot of people affiliated with HBCUs were hopeful when President Joe Biden proposed at least $40 billion for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions in the Build Back Better plan. Then some of that hope faded when the amount was scaled back. The current number on the table is $10 billion for educational programs and infrastructure at these campuses. That would include competitive grant funding instead of direct allocations.
“That may privilege a place like North Carolina A&T rather than a place like Bennett,” Harris said.
The White House and multiple HBCU presidents say the current version is still progress.
“When we think about that as it relates to federal funding, again, we still think about that in terms of resources and opening doors of opportunity for students, faculty, and staff,” Thomas said. “And thinking about that in relation to closing the gaps, closing the economic gaps, closing the social gaps.”
Every HBCU in North Carolina received major increases in the most recent state budget. Locally, Winston-Salem State University went from $63.6 million to a little more than $65 million. North Carolina A&T is going from $92.6 million in state funding to $106.3 million. The federal story is still being written.
“The plan is incomplete,” Thomas said. “We do know that. The plan is incomplete. We’re seeing members of Congress in negotiations. And because the plan is incomplete, we don’t know what the end will be.”
In addition to getting about $1.5 million more from the state to operate, Winston-Salem State also received another $21 million for repairs and renovations. That number in the previous budget was $2 million.