The State of Public Funding & HBCUs

William C. Boland & Marybeth Gasman

William C. Boland & Marybeth Gasman

It’s no secret that HBCUs and MSIs routinely receive the short end of the fiscal stick when it comes to higher education state appropriations. The Southern Education Foundation’s James T. Minor explored this issue in an important 2008 report (Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities) that focused on 4-year public HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Minor also evaluated enrollment changes and advanced degree program distribution in these states. We sought to update his analysis with a new report.

Our primary research questions were:

  • Is Black student enrollment increasing at public PWI?
  • Have there been substantial changes in advanced degree program distribution?
  • Has enrollment in public HBCUs declined?
  • Has the enrollment of other racial and ethnic students increased at public HBCUs?

We found that Minor’s argument remains as salient today as in 2008:

  • State governments prioritize PWIs and flagships when making appropriations
  • Black student enrollment in PWIs increased in two states and stagnated in two
  • HBCUs do not have an adequate share in the distribution of advanced degree programs
  • Ethnic composition of HBCUs indicates the need for them to continue to broaden their reach and expand their mission

While many public (and private) institutions suffered from the aftershocks of the recent recession, HBCUs (and Minority Serving Institutions) were particularly affected. We found that recent state funding to HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi is far below pre-recession levels. This is recognized as the new financial normal for public higher education in the United States and will force all public institutions to pursue alternative funding methods. Only North Carolina has seen state funding rebound. Still, HBCUs continue to be funded at a lower rate than PWIs in this state as well. Even accounting for institutions of similar size, a disparity exists.

Nationwide enrollment trends apply to the states in our study. Overall HBCU enrollments declined slightly in Alabama and Louisiana from 2001-2011. Yet HBCU enrollment increased in Mississippi and North Carolina during the same time span. Black enrollment in PWIs increased in Alabama and Mississippi. It decreased in Louisiana and stagnated in North Carolina. This reveals a continuing issue of inequity within these states.

Echoing a recent Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions study The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, our study shows a shift in the ethnic makeup of HBCUs in the four southern states. White enrollment has declined, with a slight increase in Louisiana. IPEDS data paint a quickly changing portrait of HBCUs: less white, more brown. Latino student populations are exploding in HBCUs. The Black student population is holding steady, decreasing slightly in some institutions, or increasing in others. Yet mirroring the exponential population increase throughout the U.S., Latino students are flocking to HBCUs – at least in the four states within this study.

Concurrent with state funding declines, HBCUs within these states lost advanced degree programs. Every state saw changes in the number of advanced degree programs public 4-year institutions offer. Yet HBCUs saw a greater decline between 2001 and 2011. Not every HBCU or any college should offer graduate programs. Yet some state governments appear to neglect the crucial role that many reputable HBCUs’ graduate degree programs serve. HBCUs graduate more masters and doctoral recipients amongst African-Americans than any other higher education institution. It is important to emphasize the historical commitment of HBCUs to maintain social equality and afford educational opportunity. Proposals for program elimination or mergers tend to neglect this.

The experiences of the public 4-year HBCUs in the states included in this report offer a general vantage by which to view and compare HBCUs and MSIs nationwide. Though the context may differ, their experiences demonstrate the evolution of these institutions in the past decade and point towards how they will continue to change. Of particular importance is the funding imbalance, the impact on enrollments, the changing ethnic composition of enrollments at HBCUs, and the importance of advanced degree program distribution.

William Casey Boland is currently completing an MS.Ed. in higher education at PennGSE where he will begin a Ph.D. in higher education in Fall 2014 as a research assistant at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSIs). 



One thought on “The State of Public Funding & HBCUs

  1. Pingback: New Directions for Leadership in the College Presidency at MSIs | MSIs UnPlugged

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