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HBCUs receive 178 times less foundation funding than Ivy League schools, study finds

Historically Black colleges and universities receive 178 times less funding than Ivy League schools, according to a study released on Tuesday. The study, which was conducted by the philanthropic research groups Candid and ABFE, found that in 2019, the eight Ivy League schools received $5.5 billion from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations, while the 99 American HBCUs only received $45 million.

"Despite the achievements of HBCUs, philanthropy funds these higher education institutions at significantly lower rates than comparable [Predominately White institutions]. This leaves HBCUs with less than adequate funding to support their operations, educational programs, infrastructure, and endowments," said Susan Taylor Batten, president and CEO of ABFE.

One of the study's key findings was that large U.S. foundations steadily decreased support of HBCUs between 2002 and 2019, awarding $65 million to HBCUs in 2002 compared to $20 million less given in 2019. HBCUs also received fewer grant dollars reserved for research in comparison to Ivy League schools and other comparable institutions.

The study also found that on average HBCUs received around two-thirds of what foundations gave to "similarly situated institutions." While HBCUs averaged $620,073 in annual grant dollars per institution, comparison schools received an average of $968,988,

Even within the 99 HBCUs in the U.S., there were massive disparities in philanthropic efforts. The study found that the top 10 funded HBCUs received more than half of the total foundation funding across all HBCUs, and that private HBCUs received more than twice the grant dollars of public HBCUs.

Claflin University Group Portrait
Claflin University Group Portrait Claflin University/Historically Black Colleges and Universities via Getty Images

"HBCUs have thus far been successful with limited resources, underscoring their value, power, and potential," reads the study, highlighting the important role of HBCUs while also emphasizing the importance of providing more comprehensive funding to those institutions. 

"By committing to funding HBCUs, developing long-lasting relationships with them, and increasing HBCU capacity, foundations will strengthen HBCUs to continue —and build upon— the remarkable impact they have had on Black communities and the nation."

An HBCU is "federally defined as a college or university established before 1964 with a clear mission to educate Black people," according to the study, and HBCUs serve a crucial role in addressing systemic racism in America. 

"Black people have routinely experienced challenges accessing formal education in the United States through white institutions or white people. During the legalized enslavement of Black people, laws and societal prohibitions forbade their education," read the study.

Prior to the Civil War, there were only 28 college-educated Black people living in the U.S., with most HBCUs founded in the decades surrounding the Civil War. The final HBCU was established in 1962, and while the institutions admit students of all races and ethnicities, the schools still serve a majority-Black population. 

A&T Senior Students, 1960
A group of senior students at North Carolina A&T State University, circa 1960. Archive Photos / Stringer / Getty Images

In 2021, 75% of the HBCU student bodies were Black, but the schools only account for 3% of the total number of colleges and universities in the U.S. Even so, "HBCUs account for 80% of Black judges, 50% of Black doctors, and 50% of Black lawyers," according to the UNCF.

Some HBCU staff respondents in the study chalked the underfunding up to a lack of developed relationships between the schools and foundations, while others said that systemic racism played a role in the disparity.

Because the data was collected in 2019, the study does not account for the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic might have had on college and university funding across the U.S. The study was also conducted before the killing of George Floyd in 2020 that sparked nationwide protests, and may have led to a 453% increase in foundation funding to HBCUs in that year, according to preliminary data reported by the Associated Press.

In terms of recommendations moving forward, Candid and ABFE suggested that foundations should work to provide consistent funding for HBCUs, which the groups called "a very safe investment" through relationship-building. Foundations should also be supporting both the infrastructure and capacity of HBCUs, which enhances the quality of student life and provide "general operating support to empower HBCUs to set their own agendas." Foundations should also work to both "uplift and leverage" HBCU assets.

"This report serves as a clarion call to our sector to right the systemic philanthropic funding disparity facing HBCUs and to adequately invest in the future of these institutions," said Batten.

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