Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., is among 16 historically Black land-grant universities that the Biden administration says have been collectively underfunded to the tune of $12.6 billion over the last three decades. The U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Agriculture have notified governors in 15 states about the findings.
The government used data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Integrated Postsecondary Education Survey ranging from 1987 to 2020 to calculate the amount that historically Black land-grant institutions would have received if their state funding per student had been equal to those established for white students. Of the 18 states that house land-grant universities, 16 were found to have a funding disparity. Only Delaware and Ohio were determined to have provided equitable funding.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack sent letters to the governors of each state on Monday, Sept. 18 asking them to increase funding. The letter to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says that Alcorn State University has been underfunded by $257,807,216 in the last 30 years.
“Alcorn State University, the 1890 land-grant institution in your state, while producing extraordinary graduates that contribute greatly to the state’s economy and the fabric of our nation has not been able to advance in ways that are on par with Mississippi State University, the original Morrill Act of 1862 land-grant institution in your state, in large part due to unbalanced funding,” the letter states.
The Morrill Act of 1862 provided funding to establish universities to educate people in agriculture and other professions deemed practical at the time. Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University are the only two land-grant institutions in Mississippi.
“The long-standing and ongoing underinvestment in Alcorn State University disadvantages the students, faculty, and community that the institution serves,” the letter continues. “Furthermore, it may contribute to a lack of economic activity that would ultimately benefit Mississippi. It is our hope that we can work together to make this institution whole after decades of being underfunded.”
During a press conference on Thursday, the governor said he had not seen the letter but would review it. Officials at Alcorn State University did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The letter acknowledges that Mississippi has made strides since 2020 toward addressing higher education funding disparities but encourages the state to rectify the underfunding. It also details options for doing so.
“This is a situation that clearly predates all of us,” Cardona and Vilsack said in the letter. “However, it is a problem that we can work together to solve.”
Nick Judin contributed to this report.