LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Several historically black colleges and universities in 16 states, including Arkansas, have missed out on billions of dollars in funding over the past three decades according to the Biden administration.
A letter from the Secretaries of the United States Agriculture and Education Departments sent to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims $330.9 million has been underfunded over the last 30 years for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
The letter claims equitable distributions required by federal law have not been given to the land-grant universities, which include the University of Arkansas and UAPB. The nation’s land-grant universities were founded in the 19th century on federal land to further agricultural instruction and research.
As noted in the HBCU Partners Act, HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), including 1890 land-grant institutions, represent 3% of postsecondary institutions and enroll about 10% of all Black college students.
“We think about the funding we could have gotten or what we could have had, but we don’t dwell on that,” Chancellor Dr. Alexander Laurence said.
Laurence defended the governor, saying she has made an effort to start to correct the decades of wrong she inherited when she took office.
“Governor Sanders came into office and supported giving UAPB an additional $2 million a year this year, an additional $2 million next year,” he said.
He said he would still like to see more done and a commitment to invest in the university, though he would like to see it from more than just the state government.
“We’d like to see more investments in UAPB from the state government, federal government, and quite honestly, more investments from the corporations and foundations within Arkansas and beyond,” Laurence said.
Laurence spoke on the university and its history of providing quality education, saying it is worth investing in, which causes him to focus more on what can be done moving forward than what hasn’t been done in years past.
“We think about the funding we could have gotten or what we could have had, but we don’t dwell on that,” Laurence said.
For one alumnus, Leon Jones III, the underfunding is something he hopes to bring awareness to, and focus on more.
“It goes to show the value that’s placed on my education at an HBCU and as a black student in the state versus my white peers,” he said.
According to the letter, while the state has sufficiently appropriated funds to the 1862 land-grant institution UofA, including meeting or exceeding designated one-to-one federal match funding, it has not done so for the 1890 land-grant university UAPB in recent years.
Jones said UAPB is well-respected for its band, which played at Sanders’ inauguration, and they receive attention for other things such as sports, though there should be more of a focus on other noteworthy achievements.
“People are very well aware of UAPB,” Jones said. “I want people to start treating UAPB as a highly respected educational institution that produces greatness.”
The letter recommends a combination of a substantial state allocation toward the deficit combined with a forward-looking budget commitment for a two-to-one match of federal land-grant funding for these institutions in order to bring parity to funding levels.
The spokesperson for the governor provided a statement in response to the letter
“The governor is proud of the rich tradition at UAPB and will continue to support the Golden Lions,” the statement read. “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.”