February is a month during which it is integral to look at the past and learn from the country’s failures and triumphs.
This month, especially, is a time to recognize the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, their imperative role in the state of Alabama and the importance of ensuring they are well funded.
During the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week, Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said, “Recognizing the past is imperative to move forward.”
This month is extremely important in recognizing Alabama’s tumultuous past and history of racial tensions so that we, as a state, can move forward.
Alabama is the home of 15 established HBCUs, and one of them is in Auburn’s backyard — Tuskegee University. Together, these 15 institutions have a $1.5 billion impact on Alabama’s economy, providing over 15,000 jobs for Alabamians.
Despite that reality, many of these institutions remain underfunded.
At the end of the 2018 spring semester, Concordia College Alabama in Selma was forced to shut its doors due to financial strain. Stillman College in Tuscaloosa is currently working to overcome debt so that it can remain open.
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HBCUs were founded as places of higher education for black Americans following the Civil War and during segregation.
At HBCUs, black Americans were able to pursue the education denied to them by white-only institutions.
Today, Alabama’s HBCUs continue to serve mostly black, first-generation students coming from some of the state’s poorest communities.
Before it closed, more than 90 percent of students at Concordia were eligible for Pell Grants.
HBCUs provide a necessary route for many Alabamians out of poverty, but with inadequate funding this route is getting narrower and narrower for those that need it most.
HBCUs were key for land-grant institutions to retain their funding, as the Second Morrill Act of 1890 required states that had segregated public universities to have an agricultural and mechanical institution available for that state’s black population to attend or the white-only public institutions would be forced to forfeit the funding previously guaranteed to them in the Morrill Act of 1862.
Both Alabama A&M and Tuskegee University were established as land-grant institutions because of this 1890 act. In this way, Auburn’s history is forever connected to Alabama A&M and Tuskegee.
The levels of federal funding for HBCUs were never comparable in Alabama to that of traditionally white institutions.
While the Morrill Act specified that black agricultural and mechanical institutions were supposed to receive equitable funding as that of other, predominately white institutions, HBCUs simply never received the funding as the act required.
Land-grant institutions, established in both the 1862 and 1890 acts, are supposed to receive matching dollars from the state and federal government to fund extension and research, but those HBCUs established in 1890 often do not.
In a 2013 study by the APLU it was found that Tuskegee only received 65 percent of matching funds from the state in the 2010-2012 period for its extension programs. While Alabama A&M, which is partnered with Auburn through the Alabama cooperative extension program, received 100 percent of its matching dollars for extension.
Recently, funding for HBCUs — land-grant or not — has been declining, calling the future of many of these schools around the nation into question.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, is attempting to protect Alabama’s HBCUs. He and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, secured a 14 percent funding increase for HBCUs, and last week, he held the inaugural HBCU Summit at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham.
Jones has recognized HBCUs’ historical and economic importance to Alabama and as such, the necessity for Alabamians to protect and preserve HBCUs.
The people of this state cannot allow HBCUs to close their doors. It is more important than ever to ensure that HBCUs are receiving adequate funding, and — more importantly — funding that is equitable to that of predominantly white institutions.
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