Full Funding for Virginia’s HBUs

Go Spartans!

by James A. Bacon

A  Maryland school segregation case in U.S. federal court may bear watching here in Virginia. A lawsuit filed by students and alumni of Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) accuses the state of failing to fulfill state promises to desegregate the schools. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $2 billion in funding for their institutions to compensate for what they describe as a legacy of discrimination.

The Wall Street Journal sums up the case this way:

The group claims the state’s higher education commission devoted millions of dollars over decades to “traditionally white institutions” that offer educational programs duplicating those from the black colleges. The overlapping offerings have made it difficult for the black schools, whose facilities often aren’t as up to date as the white schools’, to recruit and retain the best students and faculty members, the plaintiffs say.

Maryland’s four HBCUs include Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

If the court rules against Maryland, there could be implications for every state with HBCUs. Virginia has five, although only two are state-supported: Norfolk State University and Virginia State University. Undoubtedly, NSU and VSU were under-funded during the Jim Crow era and probably for years afterwards, so it’s possible that a similar case could be made here. But the commonwealth has made a concerted effort since the Gilmore administration (and perhaps earlier) to redress the wrongs of the past.

A quick consultation of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) data yields the following levels of state support for NSU, VSU, Christopher Newport University and Radford University (to pick two comparably sized institutions) and the University of Virginia, the state flagship institution, proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell for FY 2013.

NSU — $6,612 per student
VSU — $6,293 per student
CNU — $5,671 per student
RU    — $5,314 per student
UVA — $5,288 per student

(Note: These comparisons are rough. They do not take into account varying percentages of full-time versus part-time students.)

State support is one issue, desegregation is another. NSU and VSU still have predominantly black student bodies. NSU’s entering freshman class is 87% black; VSU’s is 90%. As long as blacks suffer no barriers to entry to predominantly white universities and as long as HBCUs aren’t receiving “separate but equal” funding, however, an argument can be made that preserving HBCUs provides an option for black students who prefer to be educated in a predominantly black cultural environment.

I have no way of judging the merits of the case against the Maryland system of higher education, but based on the numbers above, I doubt there would be grounds for a case in Virginia.  The policy of full or preferential funding for HBCUs during Democratic and Republican administrations in Virginia for the past 15 years (or maybe longer) goes largely unheralded. But it’s a good example of how the Old Dominion has quietly moved beyond its segregationist past — in possible contrast to its liberal, northern neighbor.

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4 responses to “Full Funding for Virginia’s HBUs”

  1. here we go again with the ” I did not discriminate against you so or your daddy so why should I pay”…. dispute…

  2. Just a quick observation: I’ve never seen HBUs as the description for black colleges. It’s always been HBCUs, as in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

  3. Thanks, Vivian, I’ll make the change.

  4. Good article, BTW

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