Toolkit: HBCU Financing

Representative Harold Love Jr. and Tennessee State University

The Challenge

In 2013, Representative Harold Love Jr. discovered that the state of Tennessee had failed to provide Tennessee State University (TSU), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), a required one-to-one match under the 1890 Land Grant Act.

In 2020 and 2021, Representative Love identified over $500 million in owed funding for Tennessee State University from 1957 to 2020. In 2021, he secured over $300 million in the state budget.

How Can You Do This In Your State?

Do you have an HBCU in your state? If it was established through the 1890 Land Grant, the state may also owe it funding.

Representative Love figured out how to do this on his own. You do not have to. Below you’ll find a primer on how to recover owed HBCU funds, taking inspiration from the process Representative Love used.

Download Representative Harold Love, Jr.’s Securing State – Matching Funds for Your Historically Black Land Grant Institution Toolkit 

Drafting HBCU Funding Legislation: A Primer

This section breaks down the process to:

  • Identify if your state has an HBCU funding gap and is owed money

  • Build stakeholder buy-in

  • Draft legislation

  • Pass legislation

At each step, we offer the questions we would advise you to consider in your own work to pass legislation. 

At the end of this step-by-step breakdown, we have shared a full case study of Representative Love’s work. It includes specific legislation names and constituent outreach.

The 1890 Land Grant Act & HBCU Funding

The 1890 Land Grant Act, also known as the Second Morrill Act of 1890, provides federal grants through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for agricultural research, education, and extension to nineteen historically Black land grant institutions (“1890 institutions”).

HBCUs did not always have access to the land grant program. Initially, land grant funds were only provided to the fifty-seven 1862 institutions deemed eligible under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, predominately white land grant institutions and universities (“1862 institutions”).

The USDA distributes capacity grants, also known as formula funds, among eligible 1862 and 1890 institutions based on statutory formulas. These grants generally require one-to-one non-federal matching funds provided by the state or a non-federal source. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in 2020, 1862 institutions received over 80 percent ($574 million) of federal capacity funds, and 1890 land grant institutions received 18 percent ($124 million).

However, the state’s failure to provide a one-to-one match is a problem. It also exacerbates disparate funding at the federal level for 1890 institutions.

Currently, the law permits USDA to give waivers to states, allowing them to match less than half of the federal funds for 1890 institutions. These waivers were initially intended to ensure that 1890 institutions would still receive federal funds even if the states could not provide the full match. However, it has incentivized states to underfund 1890 institutions while fully funding 1862 institutions.


The first thing we recommend is creating a bipartisan fact-finding committee. The goal of a fact-finding committee would be to study prior years’ federal and state funding for land-grant higher education institutions. This is how you can identify if there are inequities in payments to HBCUs (“1890 institutions”) or disparities in state-match funding. 

Such fact-finding committees also can:

  • Hold hearings to gather data
  • Request analyses of past budgets
  • Offer critical legislative and policymaking support, including the justification for new legislation

Questions to consider:

    • What is your big idea? What is the ultimate outcome you would like to see? 
    • Who would be on your fact-finding committee?
    • How can you make your fact-finding committee bipartisan?
    • What government offices could support your committee’s fact-finding? 
      • Ex: Office of Legislative Budget Analysis
    • What academics or academic institutions could support your committee’s fact-finding mission? 
      • Ex: impacted HCBUs
    • In what policy-related work can your committee engage?
    • How can you use the findings of your committee to help educate and engage potential allies and stakeholders?

You’ll discover many stakeholders in your policymaking path to identify funds owed to HCBUs because of potential state failure to provide state and federal funds. This includes political stakeholders and university stakeholders. Here are some types of stakeholders and questions to consider for each group.

Allies and Caucus/Party Leaders

    1. What role does your party and/or caucus leadership play in this process? 
    2. When should you engage them about this particular issue? 
    3. How can you solidify support among allies and caucus/party leaders?
    4. How will engaging party and/or caucus leadership help in this process?
    5. What would you recommend to engage party/and or caucus leadership?

Bipartisan Allies: 

    1. When would you engage your bipartisan allies?
    2. In what ways would you engage them beyond asking them to sponsor a bill?

State Governor: 

    1. At what point do you engage the Governor of the State? 
    2. How could engaging the Governor help in this process?

Other Political Stakeholders

    1. Do you engage other political stakeholders? 
    2. Who and how?

University Leadership Stakeholders

    1. Do/when do you engage HBCU Presidents?
    2. What are the pros and cons? What impact could it have on the process? What role would you want HBCU Presidents to play? 
    3. Would you want to engage with any other HBCU academic leaders?
    4. What are the pros and cons? What impact could it have on the process? What role would you want HBCU leadership to play?
    5. When or do you engage any 1862 institutions to join your effort to receive equitable funding? 
    6. What role would you want 1862 institutions to play?
    7. Do/when do you engage with alumni associations?

Coalitions and Like-minded Stakeholders

    1. Do/when do you engage with organizations like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund or the Association for Public Land-Grant Universities? 
    2. What organizations would you include in that engagement? What organizations would you not include?
    3. Do/when do you conduct public-facing campaigns? 
    4. Do/when do you use social media or other platforms to raise awareness about this issue?

The final step is identifying the needed legislation and legislative strategy. Here is a handy reference for how state legislation gets made.

Here are helpful questions to ask as you draft and pressure test legislation to the floor and to the committee(s).

    1. What types of bills have been introduced in the past on this topic? What did those hearings yield?
    2. How will you learn from those past bills when you draft your bill?
    3. How and why did you conceive this bill?
    4. What is the impact this bill will have?
    5. Where does this bill intersect with previous legislation (drafted or passed)?
    6. What messaging will you need to build support for this bill?
    7. What pieces of the bill may meet with resistance? 
    8. How can you use data gathered in your fact-finding committee or stakeholder support to address that resistance in advance?

Case Study: Representative Harold Love Jr. & Tennessee State University

While we recognize that every state legislature is unique, we hope sharing the innovative and effective work of Representative Love as a case study will be helpful for your further inspiration—and action.