Traditionally Black colleges and universities in the U.S. have been underfunded for decades. NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks to journalist Adam Harris about the underlying explanations behind the inequality.
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Resource link For decades, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been chronically underfunded in comparison to predominantly white institutions (PWIs). This issue has been brought to national attention recently as HBCUs struggle to remain financially viable amidst a public health and economic climate that has disproportionately affected minority communities. A closer look at the history of higher education tells us why these funding discrepancies have been so persistent.
The legacy of the U.S. higher education system is rooted in racism. From the 1800s to the 1960s thousands of colleges and universities were founded on the principle of racial segregation. Although the period of legalized racial segregation officially ended with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the subsequent decades saw the continuation of more subtle and entrenched discrimination practices, such as redlining, that perpetuated the underrepresentation of African-Americans in higher education opportunities.
HBCUs have long faced a lack of resources, which has left them ill-equipped to compete with PWIs. From meager endowments, to inadequate academic and infrastructure support, HBCUs have had to work with fewer resources. This has hindered their ability to attract faculty, better equip labs and classrooms, and provide adequate financial aid for students.
Furthermore, the long-term effects of underfunding have been compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. HBCUs are among the most vulnerable institutions of higher education due to their limited endowments and reliance on tuition income. As such, HBCUs have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic, with-out the financial cushion of their wealthier counterparts.
It is clear that disparities in funding are a lasting vestige of inequality that continues to stymie HBCUs. The United States must address the systemic injustice of unequal opportunity in education. If we are serious about making higher education more equitable and accessible, then there must be a renewed commitment to increasing investments and resources for these vital and vulnerable institutions.