Panel Paper: Titrating Equality: An Event History Analysis of Federal Oversight of State Governmental Funding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Columbian (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew Patrick Shaw, American Bar Foundation; Vanderbilt University

Periodically, since the federal courts ordered comprehensive desegregation in public education in the early 1970s, public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have raised claims that state legislatures have persisted in underfunding them relative to their non-HBCU counterparts. While, as a legal matter, underfunding public HBCUs violates the Higher Education Act of 1965 and, for some institutions, the Second Morrill Act of 1890, federal enforcement has been inconsistent. This paper explores an essential and underexplored component to HBCUs’ contemporary legal plea for stronger federal enforcement: the theory that state governments gauge their appropriation levels in HBCUs so as to meet minimal compliance criteria which would allow them to either avoid or remove federal oversight.

Leveraging historical legislative appropriations and IPEDS data from one state, North Carolina, this paper uses event history analysis to examine linkages between federal enforcement of equal funding laws and state appropriations to the state’s five HBCUs. Preliminary results suggest that during periods of intense judicial scrutiny of higher-education desegregation, the North Carolina General Assembly makes statistically significantly higher appropriations to HBCUs than in times of lesser scrutiny. Archival content analyses suggest that the General Assembly’s investment in HBCUs during high-scrutiny periods is motivated by preserving non-HBCU colleges. I argue that these observations reveal that North Carolina, as a stand-in for segregationist southern state governments writ large, understand investment in HBCUs to be a wasteful expenditure to be minimized, as it is justified only by the need to maintain access to federal funds. This observation is bolstered by state-governmental behavior during times of less scrutiny, particularly during the post-segregation era. During these times, legislators express beliefs that investments in HBCUs are unnecessary and inefficient and support a variety of strategies to close and divest from HBCUs or to merge them into non-HBCUs.