Toolkit: HBCU Financing

Representative Harold Love and Tennessee State University

Draft Legislation: A Primer
Read Case Study

The Challenge

In 2020 and 2021, Representative Harold Love discovered that the state of Tennessee had failed to provide Tennessee State University (TSU), an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), a required one-to-one match under the 1890 Land Grant Act.

In 2020 and 2021, Representative Love secured over $500 million in owed funding for Tennessee State University.

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.

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 Colleges and Universities (HBCU) land grant colleges and universities (“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 colleges 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. In 2020, [LINK] according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), 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 & 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.

Between 2020 and 2021, Representative Love secured over $500 million of funds owed to Tennessee State University. He led forward this legislative effort after his research showed that the State of Tennessee had failed to provide TSU with its owed one-to-one match under the 1890 Land Grant Act.

While federal law permits USDA waivers, many 1890 institutions, including TSU, had not yet received funds lawfully owed them under the 1890 Land Grant Act. 

Before Representative Love’s legislation, the impacts of this funding disparity at TSU included:

  • limiting TSU’s extension and research programs
  • limiting its ability to recruit talented students
  • restricting its scholarships
  • hampering its technological advances
  • causing a deferred maintenance backlog
  • depleting its endowments.

Legislation Step One: Establish a Fact-Finding Study Committee

On June 20, 2020, the Tennessee General Assembly formed the Land Grant Institution Funding History Study Committee. This six-member bipartisan committee was tasked with studying inequities of prior years’ federal and state funding for land-grant higher education institutions, including TSU. 

This committee was essential for building TSU’s legislative and political support to obtain its state-match funding. 


  • On November 10, 2020, they held a hearing entitled “Historical Overview of Land-Grant Institutions,” with the Tennessee Higher Education Committee, Director of HBCU Success, Dr. Brittany Mosby. 
  • On December 8, 2020, they held a hearing entitled “Overview of Historical Funding” with Peter Muller, House Budget Analysis Director.  
  • On January 11, 2021, they had presentations from TSU leadership, including University President Dr. Glenda Glover, Ph.D.
  • On April 5, 2021, they held a hearing with the Office of the Legislative Budget Analysis 

Budget Analysis

Representative Love used the Office of Legislative Budget Analysis to find funding disparities between 1890 and 1862 Institutions

He found that between 1957 and 2007, TSU did not receive the required match from the state of Tennessee. He also discovered that in many instances, it still needed to receive the total amount of federal funding passed through the state.

Policy Work

On June 30, 2021, he held a TSU planning recommendations meeting to discuss applicable laws on land grant colleges. 

Legislation Step Two: Engage Stakeholder Support

Political Stakeholders

As you engage in this process, you must secure the support of your relevant political allies and caucuses. 

Bipartisan Allies

Early in the process, engage with the party leaders in both parties and begin to have conversations with the state Governor’s office

University Leadership Stakeholders

You should engage the leadership from both the 1862 and 1890 institutions and gain their voice and support for addressing funding disparity 

Coalitions and Like-minded Stakeholders

Leverage help from civic groups like the Thurgood Marshall Foundation and the Association for Public Land-Grant Universities. These types of organizations may have political resources that could help in this process.

Grassroots support is essential in this process. Try working with the alumni association of the 1890 institution and any student-led groups

Legislation Step Three: Execute Legislative Strategy 

While completing the other steps, you should execute a legislative strategy. The legislative strategy should include the passage of a law that requires the reporting of state and federal funding amounts.  

A good focus for your legislative efforts is to determine the cause of disparate funding and assess the consequence of this disparity. Then, you can work on legislation to correct this disparity by appropriating funds that were unlawfully withheld.

Laws Enacted: 

On February 5, 2019, Representative Love introduced HB823, which required the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to submit a report on the federal appropriations and matching funds allocated under the 1890 Land Grant Act. It became law on May 2, 2019

On June 20, 2020, the Study Committee on Land-grant Institutions was created by appropriations bill HB2922

On February 1, 2022, Representative Love introduced HB2293. It required TSU to submit annual reports to the Governor related to 

  • the progress made in addressing the improvements to TSU’s facilities and infrastructure, and
  • how the improvements address the needs identified in the Tennessee higher education commission’s evaluation of TSU facilities and infrastructure needs