Missouri lawmakers push for study of Lincoln University funding inequity

Decades of underfunding by the state has led to $87 million in deferred maintenance at the Jefferson City-based HBCU. A bipartisan group of legislators wants to rectify the chronic budget deficit

By: - October 6, 2023 5:55 am

Lincoln University, located in Jefferson City, is Missouri's 1890 land-grant institution (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

In 1890, Missouri had a choice: Allow Black students to attend the University of Missouri, its 1862 land-grant university, or open a second college for Black students with a federal grant. 

So, Lincoln University in Jefferson City received the designation — and years of separate and unequal treatment from the state began.

Federal officials estimate that the state has underfunded Lincoln by almost $361.6 million in the past 30 years, comparing per-pupil funding between Lincoln and the University of Missouri.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has requested the state conduct its own study of the historic disparity in hopes of repairing damage to Lincoln’s programming and infrastructure.

“Whether it’d be a large lump sum or whether it’d be a fixed amount of money over the course of X number of years, it is certainly doable,” Rep. Kevin Windham, D-St. Louis, told The Independent. “And not only doable, but it should be incumbent upon us.”

The funding imbalance has grown over years of the state not meeting its obligation to match federal funds and Lincoln’s administrators dipping into the university’s other revenue streams to still receive the grants.

The United States Department of Agriculture supplies 1862 and 1890 land-grant universities with grants solely for the advancement of their agricultural program. In 2000, the federal government began requiring states to either match the grants or return the unmatched funds to the USDA.

Universities can receive a waiver to receive the full federal grant, but there must be at least a 50% match at the state level. And for years, Lincoln University administrators contributed millions of dollars from the college’s general fund to meet the 50% level and pull all the federal money with its waiver.

But, the land-grant money can only be used for the college’s agriculture program. As a result, Lincoln has suffered deferred maintenance that, even though the state recently matched federal funds, is too costly to fix without a surplus.

Lincoln University President John Moseley said the problem emerged long before any current members of the General Assembly were in office.

“Much of what we’re talking about predates everybody at the Capitol, predates their arrival to Jefferson City,” he told The Independent.

His office has a view of the Capitol dome, and he speaks highly of top electeds who have advocated for Lincoln’s recent funding boost.

Missouri’s legislature began matching Lincoln’s federal grant for fiscal year 2022. Moseley didn’t know if this money would be appropriated every year, so he invested in the agriculture program’s infrastructure the first year.

“We are as an institution receiving more funding, but I can’t go and address the back issues on my main campus with the increase in (land-grant) funding,” Moseley said.

Lincoln University in Jefferson City has nearly $87 million in deferred maintenance, the university’s president John Moseley told The Independent (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

21st-century shortfalls

When the federal government began requiring states to match the USDA grants in 2000, states were allowed to incrementally reach a 1:1 match by 2007. But Missouri didn’t provide Lincoln with any money for the grant program for fiscal years 2000 to 2007, though it provided other money to the college along with the other public institutions.

Lincoln, in order to get the grant, spent nearly $43.5 million of its core funding between 2000 and 2016 and applied for waivers, explaining its financial situation.

The University of Missouri, a 1862 land-grant institution, doesn’t have the option of a waiver. But it consistently goes beyond a 1:1 match for the program.

Between 2011 and 2022, the University of Missouri received $191.7 million from the three main grant programs and matched it with $192.7 million, according to USDA data.

In the same period, Lincoln received $88.3 million in federal grants and matched almost $54.6 million after sacrificing its core funding.

“You may ask, ‘Why does it matter? It’s all money in the state provided to the institution,’” Moseley said. “Because there’s so many restrictions on what the land grant money can be used for.”

“So when we’ve taken money out of our core funding, that could have been used to make sure that our buildings are maintained,” he said.

Now, in order to fix the buildings, he estimates the cost would be $87 million.

But the university chose to defer maintenance in order to bring its agricultural programs statewide.

The University of Missouri and Lincoln’s agricultural programs complement each other, Moseley said. The University of Missouri has large livestock, like cows and pigs. Lincoln has a flock of sheep and goats its students study, and its researchers are looking for burgeoning cash crops like hemp and quinoa.

Lincoln’s work with Missouri’s farmers brought lawmakers statewide to support a funding study.

“Lincoln University does quite a bit of outreach here in southeast Missouri in Mississippi and Scott counties and even further down into the Boot Hill,” said Rep. Jamie Burger, R-Benton. “Their centers are very involved in helping us grow better products and more profitable products.”

Burger is part of the handful of Missouri lawmakers who, in February, proposed a special committee to study the funding deficit.

Burger and Windham say they wrote a letter to Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, but their proposal never gained any traction.

“We wrote (Plocher) the letter in early February, and we were scheduled to have a meeting,” Windham said. “The meeting got canceled and didn’t get rescheduled, so I’m not quite sure what the thinking was there.”

Plocher told The Independent he didn’t remember a proposal for a study on Lincoln’s funding.

Beyond Missouri

A monument at the center of Lincoln University’s campus in Jefferson City commemorates soldiers whom were formerly enslaved and joined the army for their freedom (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

The proposed study was inspired by a similar effort in Tennessee, which found a shortage between $150 million to $540 million in the state’s matching funds.

The United States Department of Education found that 16 states inequitably funded their historically Black land-grant institutions. Just two states, Delaware and Ohio, did not have a disparity between their 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions’ matches.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sent letters to the governors of those 16 states in mid-September.

“The longstanding and ongoing underinvestment in Lincoln University disadvantages the students, faculty, and community that the institution serves,” they wrote to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. “Furthermore, it may contribute to a lack of economic activity that would ultimately benefit Missouri.”

Parson, in a statement to Inside Higher Ed, said Missouri was “putting in the work.”

“We know mass standardized letters make for flashy headlines, but the fact is Missouri’s land-grant HBCU, Lincoln University, and all public higher education institutions have seen generational investments under Governor Parson’s administration,” the statement said.

Parson’s fiscal year 2023 budget included $20 million for Lincoln to build a health sciences and crisis center, allowing for the advancement of its nursing program.

But Parson has been governor since June 2018, and the state didn’t begin fully matching Lincoln’s USDA grants until 2022.

“There are more states that are matching (grants) today than there’s ever been,” Moseley said. “At the same time, not many of those have been willing to say, ‘Okay, well, let’s take a look back and see what we can do.’”

Windham believes now is an opportune time to correct the disparity, while the state has a surplus and before any lawsuit is filed.

“Not only with their surplus,” he said, “but with the attention of both state legislators and the federal government.”

In 2021, Maryland settled a 16-year lawsuit when a group of alumni and students from the state’s HBCUs who argued their colleges did not receive equal treatment. The state agreed to pay $577 million to four colleges, which they will receive in annual installments based on enrollment.

Along with Tennessee State’s payout, Moseley said other states are taking notice.

“That action over the last few years has really brought attention in a more meaningful way for other states to engage in conversation and say, ‘What does this look like in our state?’” he said.

Moseley sees bipartisan interest in repairing the funding disparity, and he’s hopeful that he can eventually replace air conditioners and begin on the millions of dollars of deferred maintenance.


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.