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HBCUs Are Not Minority-Serving Institutions

June 14, 2022

The Opinion to which this Op Ed responds was written by Kirk Schmoke and Zaldwaynaka Scott.

To the Editors:

In “The Forgotten Predominantly Black Institutions of Higher Ed,” Kurt Schmoke and Zalwaynaka Scott, respectively presidents of the University of Baltimore and Chicago State, both designated predominantly black institutions (PBIs), make an “urgent” appeal for positioning PBIs “at the forefront of higher education equity conversations,” along with HBCUs.

In so doing, the authors mis-define HBCUs as minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and present a comparison between congressional investments in HBCUs and PBIs, which, for the point they seek to make, is like comparing the proverbial apples to oranges.

The misaligned comparison between HBCUs and PBIs is rooted in the failure of the authors, like many, to understand that unlike PBIs, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander institutions (AANAPISIs), Native American serving non-tribal institutions (NASNTIs), Alaska Native & Native Hawaiian-serving institutions (ANNHSIs), all of which are by definition minority-serving institutions (MSIs), neither HBCUs nor tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are MSIs.

HBCUs and TCUs are mission-based institutions that were born out of the affirmative discrimination by the federal government. HBCUs and TCUs were founded to remediate the de jure discrimination against African Americans and American Indians, respectively, and the continuing vestigial impacts of the discrimination. Neither HBCUs nor TCUs has a race or ethnicity requirement.

In spite of the shortcomings of the argument posited by our esteemed colleagues, we share their conclusion that PBIs need strong federal support. The appropriations formula used to determine the PBI share of federal dollars by Congress has shortcomings.

PBIs are underfunded relative to others in their MSI cohort (PBIs, HSIs, AANAPISIs, NASNTIs, and ANNHSI) in large measure because well-intended congressional appropriators struggle to ensure equitable investments in the under-resourced, diverse MSI subsets, as the number of MSIs are increasing because of America’s growing diversity. In separate funding streams, our champion appropriators, struggle to fund at levels to accommodate their growing needs and proven outcomes, the mission-based HBCUs and TCUs, founded to redress affirmative discrimination by the federal government.

PBIs must not feed into the myth that PBIs and HBCUs are virtually the same with different histories, nor that PBIs and HBCUs are competing institutions. Neither the histories, missions, targeted student cohort, nor desired outcomes are the same.

Our organization, NAFEO, led in shaping the PBI provisions in the 2008 HEA amendments at the request Congressmen Danny Davis (Ill.),  Major Owens (N.Y.), Ed Townes (N.Y.), Donald Payne Sr. (N.J.) and Senator Ted Kennedy (Mass.), to create a program to provide members of Congress who had pockets of low-income, first generation African Americans in their states, who attended public and private nonprofit institutions that enrolled a substantial percentage of these students, a vehicle for Congress to invest in strengthening these institutions, as a means of accelerating closing the education gap.

We look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Danny Davis, the original author of the 2007 PBI legislation, and a stalwart champion of PBIs, and with the Chairs and members of the congressional education authorization and appropriation committees, with presidents Schmoke, Scott, the CEOs of the other 78 institutions we believe qualify as PBIs,  and the HBCU community, to make certain the PBIs receive funding comparable to their MSI colleagues, and that we have a common agenda and potent collaborative voice for PBIs.

–John Pierre
Chancellor, Southern University Law Center
Chair, NAFEO Presidents’ Work Group on Policy, Advocacy and Law

–Lezli Baskerville
President & CEO
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education


The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) is the nation’s only national membership association of all of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). Founded in 1969, by the presidents and chancellors of HBCUs and other equal educational opportunity institutions, NAFEO is a one of a kind membership association representing the presidents and chancellors of the public, private, independent, and land-grant, two-year, four-year, graduate and professional, HBCUs and PBIs.

Contact NAFEO

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