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Leaders, Lawmakers Frustrated by Chronic Underfunding of Missouri's Historically Black Colleges

Every year, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt lobbies to boost funding to Missouri’s historically black colleges and universities, and every year, he said, it’s more of the same: Missouri’s HBCU’s will come out at the end of the budget process underfunded again. Though higher education has seen across the board cuts in the last few years, this problem has always afflicted HBCU’s, said Pruitt.

“There’s a very definitive picture that can be painted when you compare historically black institutions to the rest of the state,” Pruitt stated. “The picture is clear. It’s as clear as visiting their campuses. It’s as clear as looking at their programs and their missions. It’s as clear as looking at what their offerings are.”

Missouri has two HBCU’s — Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Funding for these schools, as with all other higher education institutions, is rolled up into our bill, House Bill 2003.

Harris-Stowe began as two separate St. Louis institutions: Harris Teachers College, created in 1857 for white students, and Stowe Teachers College, established in 1890 to educate black students. In 1954, the St. Louis Public Schools’ Board of Education merged the schools, which later took the the name Harris-Stowe State University.

Lincoln University’s beginnings were also rooted in segregation. In 1866, following the civil war, members of the 62nd Colored Infantry began Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City with a few thousand dollars. The second Morrill Act of 1890 established the educational program as a land grant institution as its curriculum expanded to include industrial and agricultural courses.

Underfunding, advocates say, has meant Harris-Stowe operates out of a nearly 100-year-old building. Harris-Stowe President Dwaun Warmack said $750,000 was originally appropriated for infrastructure purposes a few years ago, but was withheld due to “budget concerns.” Lincoln has struggled to draw down federal funding, diverting core funds to put up the funds to match the grant — a requirement to secure the federal money.

Some refute the idea that HBCU’s are underfunded. Budget committee chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, points out that, per student, HBCU’s have more funding than other state schools like MU. HBCU’s draw down about $10,000 per student while MU gets $7,000.

“If the accusation is that the state is not accurately funding them, that is my estimation based on the fact that we’re giving them more per student than any other institution,” Fitzpatrick said. “Regardless of what they choose to do with their tuition, that is a fact.”

Warmack said that lawmakers need to consider other factors such as total cost of attendance and mission.

Harris-Stowe and Lincoln often serve the underrepresented, meaning tuition must be kept low.

“We are addressing the challenge of students who want to discover what college has to offer, but have not received the same level of preparation that they were entitled to in underserved K-12 systems,” he explained. “Students from these systems who seek to expand their educational opportunities may need a longer time and need more institutional resources to accomplish their educational goals.”

A good start, Warmack said, would be a $2,000 increase per first generation minority enrollment.

“This would amount to approximately $2.8 million dollars above our current appropriation,” he said. “That may sound like a lot, but we are talking about $2.8 million in a total higher education budget of about $450 million.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis has worked from within the budget process to get more money into HBCU budgets. Last week, she secured $2 million for Harris-Stowe in a Senate Budget hearing.

Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Ferguson, and Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, both introduced legislation that aimed to increase funding to HBCU’s, but the bills have been met with resistance.

Pruitt has said if the Missouri General Assembly continues on this funding track, the courts may have to step in. In his testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, he mentioned a 1999 lawsuit the St. Louis NAACP won against the state for the underfunding of St. Louis Public Schools, and a HBCU underfunding case in Maryland.

Pruitt also recently formed the Coalition for Equity in Missouri’s Higher Education with the Harris-Stowe’s NAACP President and several students.

From here, it’s a reactionary game.

“I think what everybody’s going to be geared up for is for us to put the message out there and see how the state responds,” Pruitt explained. “I think their response is going to dictate what we have to do next. At the end of the day, we’re going to lay out the picture; we’re going to lay out the argument; and either they agree or disagree. If they agree, what move do they make to rectify it? If they disagree, then what moves do we have to make to rectify it?”