The funding gaps between historically Black colleges and those that primarily serve white students hit close to home for Nyabi Stevens, who graduated this spring from Florida A&M University.

The state of Florida is estimated to have denied FAMU nearly $2 billion in state funding since 1987, just one example of the deep and longstanding funding disparities between HBCUs and  predominantly white institutions (PWIs). Florida State University is less than a mile away from FAMU’s campus, separated by just a railroad. 

“Once you look across tracks you notice it is a completely different world,” said Stevens, a psychology major. “FAMU doesn’t have as large of a landscape or the notability that FSU has when it comes to things like sports, education, jobs, and opportunities.”

Stevens has noticed the funding gap in her classroom too. Some of her classrooms lack equipment. The computers on campus are decades old.

The second Morrill Act of 1890 — following the first which created white land-grant institutions — required states to establish separate land-grant institutions for Black students, and equally distribute funds by a one-to-one match. 

That hasn’t really happened. Steven Mobley, an associate professor at Morgan State University who studies HBCUs, previously told Open Campus that the institutions are “legislated into poverty.” 

“HBCUs are treated just like Black people. Black is in the name — it can’t be ignored,” he said. 

President Joe Biden’s administration has delivered more than $16 billion in funding and investments to HBCUs since fiscal year 2021. HBCUs are a vital engine of mobility for graduates, and despite making up a small portion of colleges in the U.S., they account for 8% of Black undergraduates and 13% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students, the White House said

Last year, the administration wrote to 16 governors, urging them to rectify the disparate funding. The funding gap between HBCUs and PWIs is about $12.6 billion over the past 30 years, they said.

[Read more: HBCU underfunding stretches more than a century: Morgan State professor

Stevens was among a group of students who filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Florida in 2022. The student plaintiffs argued that the state has systematically segregated its higher education system. However, in January a federal judge threw out the lawsuit over a lack of evidence of de jure segregation, which is the separation of people based on law.

But some land-grant HBCUs have been successful in their quest for equal funding. In 2021, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a law agreeing to pay several state land-grant HBCUs what they are owed, putting to rest a 15-year-long legal battle. 

The state agreed to pay Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore $577 million over the next decade.

Attorney Carlos Moore is representing alumni and students from three Georgia HBCUs — Fort Valley State, Albany State, and Savannah State University — who are hoping to reach a similar victory. 

“We are helping to rectify some wrongs that exist,” he told Open Campus. Moore said in April that he was planning to file a lawsuit against the universities. He didn’t return a request for additional comment. 

Last fall, a group of Democrats in Congress released a bill (H.R. 5780) that would require governors to publicly attest to whether or not they plan to fund their land-grant HBCUs. 

The bill would ensure that land-grant HBCUs have the funds they need to train the next generation of leaders, Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), one of the co-sponsors of the legislation and a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, said in a press release. 

Greg Nasif, the press secretary for Adams, said that the bill is a “marker bill” for the Farm Bill, which Congress is supposed to renew every five years. A marker bill is a measure that lawmakers introduced in the hopes of seeing it attached to a broader piece of legislation, such as the Farm Bill.

Denise Smith, deputy director of higher education policy for The Century Foundation who has worked with more than 200 colleges and universities, said there is no “accountability mechanism” holding states accountable to equally funding PWIs and HBCUs. 

State-level legislation could change that, but “I don’t think that there is a desire to rewrite, or even dig up legislation,” Smith said.

Richard Brown is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus.

Richard is a senior journalism student at Florida A&M University.