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A building on Alcorn State University campus
The State of Mississippi has shortchanged Alcorn State University $257,807,216 in agricultural funds from the federal government over the last 30 years. "Perhaps since the issue has now been raised again—this time nationally—something has to give," Dr. Ivory Phillip writes. Photo courtesy Alcorn State University

Opinion | Mississippi State Got More Than $257.8 Million of Alcorn State Agricultural Funds

The State of Mississippi has shortchanged Alcorn State University $257,807,216 in agricultural funds from the federal government over the last 30 years, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack wrote in a letter on Sept. 18, 2023.

The Second Morrill Act of 1890 states that in order to establish a second land-grant college for the purpose of creating racially separate colleges, a state must distribute federal land-grant funds equitably between the institutions. Mississippi has not done so. The same holds true for 15 other states that were found guilty of similar robberies. Of the states with racially created land-grant colleges, only Ohio and Delaware have clean hands. U.S. states have robbed America’s historically Black land-grant colleges as a group of $12.6 billion over the last 30 years.

Instead of state leaders in Mississippi equitably distributing its federal land-grant allocations between Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University, MSU has long gotten the lion’s share of the funds. I have studied the robbery going back as far as the 1973 figures compiled for the Ayers litigation, including the 2024 allocations. In 2024, ASU received 7.8% of the agricultural funds, while MSU received 92.2%. If the figures are adjusted to count the veterinarian medical school funds separately, ASU would still have only received 10% of the funds.

An irony in this situation is that MSU was not established until 1878, seven years after ASU. Mississippi State came into being after the University of Mississippi decided it no longer desired to operate agricultural and industrial programs. Meanwhile, Alcorn State was busily engaged in agricultural research and training for Black citizens.

‘Observing the History of Racial Discrimination’

Based on the funding discrepancies over the years, Mississippi State now has programs and experimental stations in every county across the state. Alcorn State has only a handful of specialized programs in the entire state. Observing the history of racial discrimination in much of the agricultural industry, it is easy to see how Black farmers and Black communities have been under-developed and under-supported. Secretaries Cardona and Vilsack indeed point to that fact and indicate that Black farmers’ economic conditions lag behind those of white farmers and that ASU is not on par with MSU “due largely to unbalanced funding.”

On Sept. 18, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack sent letters to 16 governors emphasizing the over $12 billion disparity in funding between land-grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their non-HBCU land-grant peers in their states. Click on the image to read all 16 letters. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Education

Although the two U.S. officials only cover the last 30 years of funding disparities, the disparate condition has a lifespan of more than 100 years. When the Ayers lawsuit was originally filed in 1975, one of its complaints was that agricultural programs at ASU were not funded on a basis equitable with those at MSU. Some plaintiffs at that time argued for an adjustment in the agricultural programs across the state, such that one-half would be under the jurisdiction of ASU and one-half under the jurisdiction of MSU, with funding being similarly divided.

State officials never seriously considered those arguments, and the complaint itself was lost in the decades-long court ordeal. Once a settlement agreement was signed, the matter surfaced no more. The federal government’s resurrection of this disparity last summer could mean that the courts will take up this unresolved matter, but with a different outcome this time around.

Cardona and Vilsack expressed a willingness to work together with Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and the other 15 governors and their state budget offices in order to rectify the condition. Along with that offer, they made two cautionary suggestions. One is that funding for the already well-endowed institution (MSU) does not have to be lost in order to accommodate the other (ASU), but that adjustments must be made over a period of time, bringing them together and compensating ASU.

The second is that state allocations should not be reduced for the underfunded institution (ASU) as the federal gap is closed. In making those two suggestions, it is as if the federal officials were reading the minds of the state officials. Mississippi officials, including the college board, had recoiled against more funding for Alcorn years ago on the grounds that it would mean less money for Mississippi State. Similarly, general funding for the state’s HBCUs had been reduced as the Ayers funds were dispensed to Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State University. These federal officials were suggesting that history not be repeated in either score.

Condemning the State’s ‘Robbery’

Word is slowly getting around that ASU, like the HBCUs in 15 other states, has been robbed of millions of dollars in agricultural funds. The question is, “What happens next?”

Thus far, it is a bad sign that virtually nothing has been heard from Gov. Reeves nor from Mississippi’s legislative leaders in response to the letter from U.S. Secretaries Cardona and Vilsack. While this is not surprising, it is bad because it may signify that they plan to do nothing, making court action necessary. It is a further bad omen that there has not been a flood of comments from Alcorn alumni and other Black leaders. Alcorn alumnus Duvalier Malone eloquently expressed himself in the Clarion Ledger, but not much else has been aired. One would have thought that there would be scores of comments condemning the state’s robbery and supporting the efforts to recoup Alcorn’s funding.

Stephen D. Lee Confederate Statue at Mississippi State University
A new federal letter warns about long-time inequity in funding for Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University (pictured) agricultural programs. Photo by Donna Ladd

I am not surprised that we’ve heard nothing from the Alcorn administration on this matter. It is fairly typical for Institutions of Higher Learning-appointed administrators to remain silent on “political” matters, even if and when the matters touch on the viability and survival of the institutions which they lead. It is a reality that Alcorn State University has been robbed and continues to be robbed under the current arrangement. Perhaps since the issue has now been raised again—this time nationally—something has to give.

This article originally appeared in the Jackson Advocate, a Black-owned and operated newspaper serving as “The Voice of Black Mississippians” since 1938. Read the original article here.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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